Lord of War fails on quite a few levels–I suppose some of the direction is interesting and some of the puns are funny–but it still surprised me when it attempted to be civic-minded in the end. I should have seen it coming, but I was a little distracted by the end. The last scene and one of the first scenes are pretty much it for actual scenes in Lord of War. The present action takes place over nineteen years so most of the storytelling is done in summary or half-scene. A more imaginative director would have had Cage narrate it to the camera throughout, but instead we just get to hear him tell the story instead. Lord of War breaks that cardinal rule of voiceover narration–without Cage’s narration, the film would not make any sense. It would be a loose collection of scenes tied together. The viewer might not even know he was an arms dealer.
I was going to delay the flailing, but I think I’ll end the post on a positive note. Where to start. How about the names… Cage and Jared Leto (Leto plays his brother) play Ukrainian immigrants with Ukrainian names–except when Cage calls Leto “V” (for Vitaly), because “V” just sounds cool, doesn’t it? Actually, the reason for the Ukrainian heritage is for a later event–Cage plays a composite of five arms dealers, so calling it factual is a bit of a stretch. As the arms dealer, Cage is occasionally appealing, but he isn’t operating with any depth. The screenplay is shallow (Niccol made Gattaca, which is deep, so he seems to have burnt-out right away). The dialogue–when it’s not trying to be funny, of course–is bad. Jared Leto still acts with his hair. A flop to the right means his angry, a flop to the left means addicted to cocaine. Ethan Hawke has a crew cut (playing an inexplicably authorized Interpol agent) so he doesn’t get any acting help from his hair. He’s real bad. I mean, it’s a tossup who’s worst in this film, between Leto, Hawke, Bridget Moynahan as the wife or Ian Holm. Moynahan is terrible in a funny way–it’s funny hear her say her lines. It’s absurdly amusing, but poor Holm. Holm is so bad–and so visibly bad, Niccol does nothing but put him out there to embarrass himself–he’s so bad, you’d think he’d won an Oscar in the early 1980s either as Indian independence leader or as composer who had it in for Mozart. He’s awful.
It’s a cheap film too. Niccol’s got a lot CG-aided shots (the opening credits are a bullet going from manufacture to use and it looks like Pixar did it) and they’re cheap and glossy. They look fake, so maybe Niccol’s trying bring films back to the old days when the audience was meant to be aware they were watching a false reality–and I like that kind of thinking and I like those movies–but I don’t think he was going for it.
It rips off Goodfellas. The helicopter from Goodfellas. There’s something really sleazy about ripping Goodfellas.
Now for the good part. Eamonn Walker plays a Liberian warlord. He’s great. This guy ought to be in everything. He should be the new Superman. He’s great.
He almost makes the film worth watching.