Lord of War is a story about a fictional Ukrainian-American arms dealer. The premise is simple enough, and in 2005, only four years into the War on Terror, the notion of arms smuggling and covert deals were slowly rising from the muck. What you don’t expect about Lord of War, marketed as an action-adventure, is the surprising level of cynicism and believably. Normally Nicolas Cage, the forgotten Coppola, is in movies that are universally panned. Instead, Lord of War was praised by Amnesty International for its portrayal of arms dealing, regional violence, and illicit diamond trading. Somehow, just one year after National Treasure, Cage was able to become an (almost) believable Ukrainian-American, in a script that showed promise beyond comedy.
While not completely accurate, Lord of War presents the main character, Yuri, as fictionalized amalgamation of actual weapon smugglers and arms dealers. Historically, after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the market became saturated with out-of-place weaponry, which dealers quickly got heir hands on, and in the post-Cold War free market atmosphere, were able to take advantage of unstable regimes around the world. Even though you can’t suspend your disbelief long enough to believe it’s not Nicolas Cage doing the dealing, the atmosphere is filled in by the stand-ins for realistic characters. Most notably are the dictators, warlords, and cartels that Yuri deals with, also fictionalized representations of the real-life players in the arms market.
The real draw of Lord of War is the cynicism that Cage manages to evoke with his own brand of acting. The nonchalant cynicism in the arms business, from the beginning montage to The Flying Lizard’s cover of “Money”, to the eventual climax and realizations of the characters fits right at home in a nation circa 2005, bogged down in two wars with details of how it all got started trickling out every day. While Cage may not be a convincing arms dealer, he convinces the viewer that the problem of international arms smuggling is real, which begs the question of if the movie succeeded in ways beyond the box office.
Pass around the discount Soviet bottle of liquor and put down the Kalashnikov for this week’s Collegiate Lenses.
Lord of War Drinking Game Rules:
Take a drink…
- Whenever Yuri says “gun” or “guns”
- When Nicolas Cage starts speaking in a different language
- If someone, anyone, is killed onscreen
Take this list as a suggestion, and drink responsibly. As always, enjoy the show.