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'Lord of War' misses its target

September 24, 2005|By:

Shell casings carpet the ground in "Lord of War." Stacks of U.S.

dollars fill suitcases. Bodies are left behind. Fired in a frenzy

normally reserved for Xbox afternoons, bullets are but one item in

the lethal inventory of Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage): the dollars are

the profit and bodies the loss.

"Lord of War" is an episodic journey through 20 years of Yuri's

life as a mega-successful, and highly illegal, international arms

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dealer. The story opens in New York where Yuri is one of many Russian

immigrants dreaming of vast American riches. These visions of wealth

lead Yuri to sell guns to the local Russian Mafia. Soon, with an

overseas assist from his uncle in the Soviet Army, Yuri is providing

weapons to blood-soaked warlords the world over.

Despite a premise rife with dramatic and blackly comedic

possibility, "Lord of War" is a misfire. We realize almost

immediately that Yuri's soul is as empty as one of his spent

shell-casings. The characters surrounding Yuri are just as vacant as

he, which admittedly may be the point, but doesn't make the film any

more engaging.

Vitaly (Jared Leto), Yuri's brother, a cliched drug and

boozehound, is obviously doomed from the start. Ava (Bridget

Moynahan), Yuri's hopelessly naive trophy wife, is blind to how her

husband really earns his money. Worse, Ava is a cipher and, despite

her beauty, the film grinds to a halt every time she appears on

screen. Ultimately you become numb to the entirety of the proceedings

as Yuri moves from one arms deal to the next.

The high point of "Lord of War" is its far too infrequent, though

distinct, dashes of black wit and visual invention.

Of special creative note: the credit sequence with its deadly

denouement, Yuri crunching numbers with his foot on the face of an

overturned statue of Lenin, and the girls costumed as Dallas Cowboy

cheerleaders that accompany African warlord Andre Baptiste Sr.

(Eamonn Walker).

It's too bad that talented writer-director Andrew Niccol was

unable to weave more of these elements into a compelling tale of

modern war and commerce.

REEL FACTOID

Andrew Niccol, who wrote, directed and produced the film "Lord of

War," also wrote the original story for and was executive producer of

Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal," starring Tom Hanks and Catherine

Zeta-Jones.

* BOB HARRIS has been hooked on movies since he was 13 when his

brother got a job in a multi-plex and Bob saw all the movies he

wanted for free.

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