Lord of WarLord of War almost didn't make it to the big screen. In fact, it barely even reached the production stage due to its bristly, accusatory subject matter of illegal international arms dealing. Writer/director Andrew Niccol (The Terminal, S1im0ne, and The Truman Show) insisted upon strictly adhering to true life events that shed an unflattering light on many of the world's wealthiest nations. Although telling the truth in Lord of War makes for a riveting tale of international intrigue and finger pointing, it wasn't really a great way to secure funding for a major motion picture. It took the gumption of several foreign investors who were willing to take a chance that the film's powerful message would resonate with audiences. Count me as one of those moved by the film's cruel honesty.

Yuri Orlav (Nicholas Cage) immigrated to the United States from Ukraine with his parents before the Soviet breakup. While working in the family restaurant, he witnesses a gangland style shoot-out between rival Russian mobsters. Unhappy with his niche in the restaurant life, Yuri sees the shooting as his opportunity to better himself. He realizes that owning guns is the second most basic human need behind eating so he convinces his decidedly more sensitive younger brother, Vitaly (Jared Leto) to join him in his new business of selling illegal weapons. Together they will become "brothers in arms."

Their timing is perfect as they capitalize on the fall of the Soviet Union, which gives them access to millions of cheap AK-47s, bombs, hand grenades and even helicopter gun ships. The bulk of their business is done in several fractious African nations including Liberia where self-proclaimed president Andre Baptiste is his biggest customer. Clearly money takes importance over allegiance as Yuri often sells weapons to both sides of a conflict. As their fortunes mount, Yuri marries the fashion model of his dreams (Bridget Moynahan) and Vitaly lands himself in a rehab center for his cocaine addiction.

Yuri is an interesting character. Though actually fictitious, Niccol admits that Yuri is a conglomeration of five real-life arms dealers. He is the humanization of an in-depth character study that explores the darker side of human nature. Yuri writes his own moral credo and justifies his actions in his own neglectful way. When asked how he can live with himself knowing that the guns he sells often kill innocent people, Yuri counters "Automobiles and cigarettes kill more people than firearms, but at least mine has a safety."

The film works best in its middle segments when we see the dirty business end of Yuri's dealings. He deploys a number of clever methods to disguise his contraband, including changing the names and registrations of his supply ships while at sea, and selling military choppers as rescue helicopters. A storage unit hides his tidy, hi-tech office where he stashes his fake passports, phony documents and forged bills of sale. We were riveted by Frank Abignale's story in Catch Me if You Can and here, Yuri mirrors Frank's charisma and craftiness, but with much darker and more disturbing consequences.

Nicholas Cage narrates the proceedings by breaking the third wall with a cynical, matter-of-fact voice-over that lays out a gritty, filthy snapshot of a world that we don't want to know exists. Though we're uncomfortable knowing the truth, seeing how it actually works is absolutely captivating. Nations throughout the world are implicated in wrongdoings, as Niccol's pointed story pulls no punches. His brutal honesty often hurts. Most viewers won't find comfort in accepting the film's political accusations, and its moral dilemmas will undoubtedly offend many, especially in today's increasingly volatile world. But good, thought-provoking filmmaking is good for us all.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1

Subtitles: English, Spanish, Closed Captioned

Language and Sound: English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; trailer; audio commentary.

* Audio Commentaries:
* Deleted Scenes: 3 scenes that didn't make the final cut.
* Featurettes
o Weapons of Trade
o Making-of
* Deleted Scenes
* Documentary:
o Brothers in Arms

Number of discs: - Keepcase Packaging.