Harry Potter!
Cinema Signal:

Running Guns:
The Global Black Market in Small Arms


. "Lord of War"

The whole point of this excessively long and brilliantly photographed exercise is the message at the end. Of course, I can't reveal what it is but let's just say, for the time being, that there's more to merchandising arms around the globe than meets the eye of ravenous armies and this movie attacks the subject with zeal and energy.

The theme of what weaponry translates to in terms of random death is graphically illustrated in an ingeniously designed title sequence that follows the journey a single rifle round from its manufacture, through its distribution channels, and into the head of a recipient. Audacious, daring, astonishing.

From there, Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) takes the story as its narrator and central character. He tells of his childhood being brought up in NY's Little Odessa neighborhood by Ukranian parents fronting as Jews. The idea is for the quicker absorption into society and acceptance of their modest business. But, uniquely, dad adopts the customs and practices of the religion into which he has, for all intents and purposes, converted. This has little to do with Yuri's future course in life, but it's an original sideplot with considerable charm.

Yuri starts out in the arms trade on a small scale, with something bigger very much in mind. He's got all the promotional skills and lack of moral responsibility needed. When he approaches master arms dealer Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm) in an effort to fast track his position in the business he's rebuffed as too small-time. We, of course, know better.

With the help of his brother Vitali (Jared Leto), Yuri develops into a major supplier. Vitali goes along with Yuri's program for awhile, until things get too morally dicey for his sensitivities and preference for more limited responsibility. As Yuri's business grows into an empire, in which he acquires control of illegal sea vessels, he brings heat on himself in the form of intrepid Interpol agent Valentine (Ethan Hawke) who dogs him in a valiant effort to find proof of Yuri's illegal practices.

Yuri falls in love with a supermodel whose posters hound him in every city he visits. His grandiose scheme to meet and woo her is as successful as everything else he's tried and famous Eva Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan), a prize of fine looks and classy style in any man's trophy case, marries her paramour before knowing how this son of an Ukrainian immigrant has grown so rich off a client list that includes madmen and fanatics, governments and rebel groups.

Director Andrew Niccol's expose' of a brutal geo-political trade is edged on one side with irony and humor, on the other with rather dreadful and unjust violence and lethal decimation. It features strong performances by Ethan Hawke and Eamonn Walker and it's told in such a shaky balance of values that one could leave the theatre wondering if they've been entertained or criminalized. The lesson in gun running is venal and wryly and tolerably humorous. It demonstrates that the road to irony about an economy that feeds on war can be arduous and strewn with empty shells.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Nicolas Cage as Yuri Orlov
Admiring his uncle's merchandise
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