A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie is about an international arms dealer and includes explicit images of explosions, gun battles, dead bodies. An early, striking sequence follows a bullet from manufacture through sales and shipping to its eventual endpoint in a boy's head -- the screen goes red. It also features frequent cursing, smoking, sexual promiscuity and unclothed female prostitutes, as well as drug use; one of the dealers becomes a serious cocaine and heroin addict, the other becomes addicted to the rush of selling contraband. The film reduces complex points about international markets and politics.
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What's the story?
Ukrainian émigré Yuri (Nicolas Cage) sees himself as a good enough American, having absorbed the moral, political, and legal lessons of his adopted home. He and his brother Vitali (Jared Leto) grew up in Brooklyn's Little Odessa, scamming for money and status, passing as Jews, surrounded by gangster violence. Cynical Yuri starts selling arms during the Cold War. Refusing to take sides when he sells -- to highest bidders or repeat customers -- he reasons sides are unstable anyway. Nations, including the U.S., take up with allies who are most convenient and useful at any given moment. Yuri's "first break" comes after the terrorist bombing of the Marine base in Lebanon, when the U.S. leaves behind an impressive array of munitions. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Yuri's Uncle Dmitri (Eugene Lazarev) has access to much of the $32 billion worth of arms that goes "missing." And so the ambitious young entrepreneur leaps into the global not-so-black market, backed by his compliant muscle, Vitali.
Is it any good?
Ambitious, uneven, and occasionally philosophical, LORD OF WAR ultimately argues against war and violence. While this is hardly a new idea, it's rare to find a movie so determined to make its case -- sometimes too heavy-handedly, though always earnestly. This despite the fact that Andrew Niccol's movie is something of a comedy, in that it frames its subjects -- violence, militarism, cutthroat business practices, avarice, depression, and addiction -- with dark irony.
Less effectively, the film sets Yuri against an Interpol Agent (Ethan Hawke), who embodies a legal system that has little to say about international gun-running. While Yuri plainly gets off on risk, he's also broadly representative of cavalier attitudes toward risk concerning vulnerable individuals and communities. As he resists considering moral or cultural dimensions when making sales, he becomes a drug addict. Though the film is not subtle, it does make its case: taking sides is inevitable.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the brothers' relationship: how does Yuri take advantage of Vitali? How does Yuri's lying to his wife, Ava, become a metaphor for lying to himself? What is the function served by dogged Agent Ryan, whose moral position seems almost quaint alongside the high stakes rolling of the arms dealers? As the film argues that Yuri's deals are small potatoes next to corporate and government contractors, how does it take a stand against Yuri and/or how does it generate sympathy for him?
- In theaters: September 16, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: January 17, 2006
- Cast: Bridget Moynahan, Jared Leto, Nicolas Cage
- Director: Andrew Niccol
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 122 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong violence, drug use, language and sexuality
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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