Lord of War (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Let me make this perfectly clear. Lord of War is a great movie. It was a box office disappointment, drew mixed critical judgments, and will not get any post-season hardware. I am writing this during awards season in early 2006, with the Globes having past and the Oscar nominations on the way, and neither those organizations nor any of the other august award-bestowing bodies have given as much as a perfunctory nod to this film. Despite all that, it is in the same league as the award winners.

It is a black comedy in which Nic Cage plays an arms dealer named Yuri Orlov and Ethan Hawke plays the Interpol agent obsessed with Yuri's capture. The script is brilliant in just about any way you can imagine. The situations are imaginative and bizarrely twisted, yet almost real because ... well, because the life of an arms dealer is pretty damned surreal to begin with. The attention to small details is impressive. The ending is a truly cool way to finish the cat-and-mouse chase, although the final outcome is annoyingly inconsistent with an important plot point established either. The narration by Cage is hilarious, yet often very poignant, as the best black comedy can be when handled correctly.


There's one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?

I sell to leftists, and I sell to rightists. I even sell to pacifists, but they're not the most regular customers.

The silencer is so effective that if you shot me right now, you wouldn't wake up the man in the next room. (As client prepares to do just  that ...) ... but if you did so, you'd lose any chance for repeat business.

What do you mean they're negotiating a peace settlement? Forget it. I'm selling everything to the Balkans. At least when THEY say they're going to have a war, they keep their word.

After the Cold War, the AK-47 became Russia's biggest export. After that came vodka, caviar, and suicidal novelists.

Back then, I even sold the Afghanis weapons to kill my fellow Soviets, but I never sold to Osama Bin Laden. Not for any moral reasons, but because he was always bouncing checks.

Selling a gun for the first time is a lot like having sex for the first time. You're excited but you don't really know what the hell you're doing. And some way, one way or another, it's over too fast.

I sell guns to every army but the Salvation Army.

Officer: "We're with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms."  Yuri: "Let me guess... this isn't about the alcohol or tobacco."


The film's visual imagination is a perfect match to the spirit of the script. Not only is it inventive, with several outstanding scenes, but this is just a slickly-packaged and generally great-looking movie in general, and the director came up with some incredible location shots.

Eastern Europe


Africa/Middle East




It looks so damned cool and is so funny that Elya ended up watching the rest of the movie with me after wandering in to tell me something. I pressed the pause button, and as I filled her in on what had transpired earlier, she was laughing out loud at my descriptions, and I was giggling while recalling it. Whether the film is picturing the massive fire sale of weapons which accompanied the fall of the Soviet empire, or the corruption and tragedy of Africa, it is simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. If Martin Scorsese had made GoodFellas about arms dealers rather than Mafiosi, and if Scorsese had a much better sense of humor, he would have made a movie very much like this. I don't know if I can give any filmmaker a better compliment than that.

The critics that panned the film seemed to feel that it was a strident message movie - the kind of movie Michael Moore might make if he created fictional stories. I have these points in response:

1. So what? The fact that any given film is a liberal sermonette movie doesn't make it good or bad. Some liberal sermonette movies are outstanding cinema (Good Night and Good Luck, Crash); some others are flawed but memorable (The Constant Gardener); and others suck but get some good reviews from those who just love sermonettes (The Interpreter).

2. I would amend the criticism to read "the kind of movie Michael Moore might make if he created fictional stories ... and had a high IQ and Martin Scorsese's filmmaking talent." And, given those amendments, I don't see any problem at all with that kind of movie!

3. Provocative advocacy is not really a bad thing in general. In fact, it can create very effective cinema simply because it is involving. Michael Moore is probably wrong as often as he is right, but he evokes a powerful emotional response from those who agree as well as those who disagree. The ability to engage, in and of itself, is a sign of pretty good filmmaking.

4. The point of Lord of War is not really that political. The film is not really anti-gun or even anti-war. It simply points out the amorality of arms dealers and the U.N. Security Council members who look the other way at international arms dealing because it often serves their own purposes.

5. The one thing this film has going for it that liberal sermonette movies usually lack is humor. (Good Night and Good Luck has some, the others listed above have none at all.) A sharp, original wit can make even sermonizing palatable.

In fact, I would argue that the film's biggest weakness is the exact opposite of what those critics complained about. The film is not too controversial or too preachy, but too obvious. I mean, are there many people out there who don't think that arms dealers are bad dudes?  The film really has no lesson, although it often seems to think it is teaching one. While not unaware of that point, I chose to ignore it simply because I can't see any reason to create a rule that says "nobody can make fun of arms dealers." Given the absence of such a rule, the film does everything it should. It is both entertaining and emotionally involving, so it doesn't really need to be instructive. And if you also learn something from it ... well, so much the better.

  Two disc set:
  • Widescreen anamorphic
  • Brothers in Arms Documentary
  • Shooting Call: The Making of Lord of War
  • Commentaries
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Weapons of Trade


The nudity is very brief. Tanya Finch shows one breast and her bum in a dark sex scene with Cage.

In the deleted scenes, Bridget Moynahan may or may not show a brief flash of her crotch beneath a robe.

The Critics Vote ...

  • British consensus out of four stars: two and a quarter     stars. Mail 6/10, Telegraph 0/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 4/10, Times 8/10, Sun 5/10, Express 8/10, Mirror 8/10, FT 5/10, BBC 4/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It was a box office disappointment and will need good secondary income sources to break even. With a production cost of $50 million and a solid promotion/distribution budget, it was hoping to be at least a $100 million picture. It topped off at $24 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+. I can't see scoring it any higher, even though I loved it. Black comedy has very little crossover appeal. Even Dr Strangelove, which may be the best black comedy ever made, is a film for a small, discriminating audience.

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