Lord of War packs high-caliber style into 120-minutes but hopelessly meanders off into a plot-less desert. We get Nicolas Cage shooting off cool one-liners nearly every other take, but the film fails to capitalize on his eccentricity and doubles down too much on his charm. It’s 2001’s Blow with guns instead of cocaine, and equally as forgettable performances from its supporting players.
The film depicts the rise of Yuri Orlov, a Ukranian-born arms dealer who started off small-time with big ambitions and then in just the span of 15 or 20 minutes in the movie, became the most trusted gun trafficker in the world. The film is so eager to jump from Yuri’s small town beginnings to his dominance in the gun world that it feels far from fulfilling on a storytelling level. There are no true stakes because Yuri apparently feels no fear. There are no gambles or tense moments because Yuri is always in control. It’s as lifeless as a jammed pistol, as dull as a rusty soviet knife.
Cage and his supporting cast do their best with the material given but their characters are so one note we forget they were even part of the film to begin with. Yuri’s brother, played by Jared Leto, is atypical coke-head fuckup. Yuri’s wife, played by Bridget Moynihan, is naive, unassuming wife. The only kind-of interesting character is Ethan Hawke’s federal agent, a zealous but morally-sound individual tasked with bringing Yuri down. But even he is seldomly used.
To cover these flaws, Lord of War paints its scenes in extra coats of silver, creating sleek cinematography and a couple of memorable scenes. The movie is worth watching alone for the “journey of a bullet” intro, but the single best scene is when Yuri’s plane has to make an unexpected set down in Sierra Leone, with Yuri giving out crates full of weapons to poor, malnourished locals. It’s something so surreal and lively that it makes Lord of War actually feel like it has a personality and a plot. But that slowly trickles away, with empty bullet casings of a story left in that wonderful scene’s wake.