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Lord of War
"There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?" - Yuri Orlov
One of the more thought provoking movies to be release in 2005 was Andrew Niccol's Lord of War. Though the trailers made it look like a Nicolas Cage action film, the movie was anything but. A fictional biopic of a self made gun runner, the movie is also an indictment of the prevalence and easy acquisition of guns throughout the world. While the film does tend to preach to the converted, it is still a strong and film that works more than it fails.
Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) was born in the Ukraine but moved to the US as an infant. Growing up in a Little Odessa he always dreamed of bigger things than working in his father's kosher diner, but it wasn't until he saw an attempted hit on a Russian mobster that he realized what his calling was: to sell guns. A born salesman possessing a mind that was good for business, he soon realized that the margins for a gun store were too low and there was too much competition. The real money was selling in bulk to people in other countries involved in wars. Bringing his younger brother, Vitaly (Jared Leto), in with him the two start making some good money. Vitaly doesn't have the stomach for the job however, especially when he sees young boys being put up against a wall and shot with guns that he and his brother provided. Turning to drugs to ease his conscience, Vitaly is soon unable to function and retires.
Going solo, the film charts Yuri's rise to become one of the biggest arms dealers in the world. Where ever there are unused guns, be it the US Army's weapons abandoned in Lebanon or the former USSR's stockpiles in the Ukraine and other satellite states, Yuri's there to buy them and pass around bribes to get them out of the country. Likewise in any hot spot in the world, Yuri is there to sell his weapons of death. (Though the movie is very clear that he never sold guns or ammunition to Osama Bin Laden.) Along the way he picks up a trophy wife, has a child, and manages to sleep at night by telling himself that he never forces anyone to use the guns that he sells. All the while he is being pursued by honest cop Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke) and manages to stay one step ahead of him by living in the grey areas of the law.
It's easy to get involved with Yuri's life, and one of the reasons is the movie is firmly set in the real world. The events that Yuri exploits for his profit were in the headlines and people who lived through the suicide bombing of Marines in Lebanon or the fall of the Berlin Wall will recognize the events but not necessarily understand the repercussions that are examined in this film. Having an almost documentary feel in places, the film makes its points without being dry or dull.
This film does tend to preach to the choir a bit. Does anyone really think that selling guns to both sides of an African civil war is a good thing? It can be excused for this however because it does so in a way that isn't heavy handed. Written by director Andrew Niccol, the message is woven into the film so adroitly that it doesn't seem to be a 'message film' at all until it's over. Some of the dialog does tend to come across as contrived and cliched though. It's hard not to cringe when hearing lines like "There are two types of tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want, the other is getting it." It sounds like something you'd read in a fortune cookie. Or even worse "I would tell you to go to hell, but I think you're already there. " Fortunately these awkward moments are relatively few.
Cage really makes the film. One of his better performances, the actor is able to make Yuri a sympathetic character who does unsympathetic things. The audience wants to see Yuri make it out of Africa alive, even while they recoil at the fact he's selling guns to a dictator who is arming children. You'll find a smile crawling across your face as he outwits the agents after him, coming up with technically legal ways to smuggle weapons out of a country. The movie all hinges on Cage, and he really rises to the occasion.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, or even an official announcement from Samsung.
This release of Lord of War presents the film in its original aspect ratio used for theatrical exhibition: 2.40:1. The first two SD DVDs cropped the image to 1.78:1, but Lion's Gate later changed the print on the 2-disc set so that it had the correct 2.40:1 ratio. (Thanks to alert reader ShagMan for pointing that out.)
That wouldn't matter too much if the image quality wasn't up to par, and luckily it is. This HD disc has a lot of impressive scenes, starting with the opening sequence that follows the path of a bullet from manufacture to its final destination in the head of a teen. This GCI and live action mix looked great with a lot of depth to the picture. Many other scenes in the movie also had that three dimensional 'pop' that makes HD video so pleasing. The black levels were very good, but some details did disappear in shadows. I felt this was more a function of lighting and the way the movie was shot more than any flaw with the encoding of the disc. The flesh tones were also a problem, usually appearing just a tad too red. It was a bit surprising to see spots on the film, only three or four through the whole film but they were there.
Digitally the disc looks good. There is a bit of digital noise, but it is minor especially when compared to other Blu-Ray discs. Aliasing, blocking, and other common digital defects weren't to be found. Overall a very nice looking disc.
As with the other early Lions Gate Blu-Ray releases, this disc does not include a space hogging uncompressed PCM soundtrack. Instead it offers a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX mix as well as a DTS-ES 6.1 track. I viewed this movie with the DTS track but spot checked the DD also. While the DTS track is just a tad more tight and dynamic, they are very similar. The sound was reproduced very accurately and with nice range. The low rumbles of explosions sounded just as clean as the high pitched *tink* of shell casings hitting a cement floor. The only complaint I have is that there wasn't much use made of the rears except during the action sequences and while music was playing. The rest of the time the sound was firmly rooted in the front. Audio defects weren't to be found making this a good sounding disc.
As with the other Lions Gate Blu-Ray releases so far, there are no extras.
This is a strong and interesting film that tackles a subject very rarely seen in films, and does it well. Though there are some flaws, the strengths of the film more than make up for them. This Blu-ray disc is very good too, presenting the film with its original aspect ratio and making it look and sound good to boot. It's just to bad that Lions Gate didn't see fit to include any of the extras that are found in the two-disc collector's edition of the film. Still, if you're looking for a quality film that is a bit off the beaten path, you won't go wrong with this one. A strong Recommendation.