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“Oh, look. Bullets.”

Mere seconds into the opening scene, my co-reviewer leaned over and whispered to me, “Oh, look. Bullets.” In the most simplistic terms, that is a perfect summary of Lord of War. The opening montage is both cleverly-shot and sobering, following the life of a single bullet all the way from manufacture in a factory to use on an innocent bystander in the middle of a war zone. The final scene reminds us that, despite the chaos caused by independent gunrunners, the five nations with permanent seats on the UN Security Council are the largest manufacturers and distributors of weaponry on the planet. The film sometimes seems to lose sight of its message along the way, but the case it eventually makes is difficult to ignore. What it amounts to is a hard look at the free trade of weapons, the horrors of warfare, and the role the United States plays in disseminating both.

Lord of War is cannily written and engagingly filmed, with plenty of well-developed characters to root for and despise (often at the same time). The acting is mostly solid. The dialogue is witty and the special effects look good. The movie is easy to follow, despite the large number of characters and the sudden jumps in time and place. But the plot seems to lose its way a number of times, and the situations do not always remain believable. Additionally, a few unnecessary subplots become a bit unwieldy and never really justify their inclusion in the film. Tighter editing would have made for a more effective case supporting the movie’s thesis.

Technical excellence and lack of focus aside, the big question is whether the movie treats its subject too seriously or too lightly. Not for the sensitive viewer, Lord of War uses raw, brutally realistic scenes of violence to get its point across. On the other hand, the voice-over narration provided by Orlov injects a great deal of wry (and often welcome) humor into the script. It soon becomes apparent that, however casual and glib Orlov may be about what he does, the moviemakers are serious about their own message. The deeply cynical outlook of Lord of War requires the audience to take a harshly negative view of global politics. It would take a stoic viewer indeed not to hope for a brighter world than the one we are shown here.

This, ultimately, is the angle of approach the movie takes. Pulling no punches in portraying their perspective of the grim truths which lie at the evil heart of global conflict, the creators hope that audiences will come away with a new perspective on the world. They seek to show that there is nothing noble, honorable, or virtuous about warfare or the people that perpetuate it. One thing is certain: Lord of War is purely a morality tale, and its purpose is primarily to instruct, not to entertain. Whether or not the movie is well-made, viewers’ appreciation of it will rest on whether they are convinced that the message is true.

  • Co-reviewed with Randy
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~ by Jared on October 2, 2005.

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