After 30 days and 30 films, I’ve come to this conclusion. Nicolas Cage is not a bad actor. He just has bad taste.
Cage can bring unparalleled emotional intensity to a role; if you need someone to charge bravely off the beaten path of human behaviour, this is your man. This energy can wonderfully fill out the right characters. Take Wild At Heart (1990): in most films, Cage’s Sailor Ripley would be completely ridiculous, but he’s a perfect fit in David Lynch’s world of perverts and hysterics. Unfortunately, this unique intensity only works well if the film is already good; Deadfall (1993) is poorly written and poorly directed, and so Cage goes utterly off the rails with unintentionally hilarious results.
It’s also a myth that Cage can only play nutters. His Oscar-winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas (1995) is fantastically nuanced, making Ben at once a recognisably well-rounded human and a tragic figure. Ben is ill, disintegrating before our eyes and at odds with most of society, but he’s a world away from the stereotypicial “Crazy Cage” aggressive loon.
If Cage was lucky enough to only make intense character-based dramas with good scripts, his reputation would still be strong. Unfortunately, he still makes a lot of bland thrillers and action films, and Cage simply doesn’t suit any of the generic action hero roles. He’s boring as the quiet loner in Bangkok Dangerous (2009) and obnoxious as the cocky young hotshot in Fire Birds (1990). When the role calls for a certain offbeat, unhinged presence, as in Face/Off (1997) and Kick-Ass (2010), Cage is a good fit, but those moments are rare.
Thankfully the most recent decade of Cage has been almost entirely free of romantic films, which are by far his worst genre, as shown by the miserable City of Angels (1998) and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001). When romance does crop up in his action films, as in Next (2007), it’s usually cringeworthy, but at least it’s not the film’s focus.
Watching my way through the dregs of Cage’s career, I was often reminded of the hilarious video Nicolas Cage’s Agent, in which Cage’s hapless agent tries to stop the actor from making increasingly bad films (Schindler’s Fist, Space Ass, A Very Pol Pot Christmas). “I like being in movies, Gary,” Cage explains. Maybe that’s it. Films like Gone in 60 Seconds (2000) or Ghost Rider (2007) might not be entertaining or emotionally interesting to watch, but they look like a lot more fun to make than Leaving Las Vegas (1995).
Many of Cage’s worst films would be terrible whether or not he was present, and I’d argue that his presence sometimes improves them. The Wicker Man (2005) would be dull and forgettable without Cage screaming about bees and bikes. Maybe that’s something to be thankful for. Nicolas Cage can be brilliant, boring or flat-out bizarre, but he’s certainly unique, and our cinemas and DVD collections would be less interesting without him. Shine on, you crazy diamond.
As for the hair, I still can’t think of a good explanation.
#30: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
Finally, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice draws an end to our rocky cinematic journey. It’s suitably average: underbaked and often very silly, but more entertaining than terrible. This Disney family adventure capitalises on the current popularity of urban fantasy, with Nicolas Cage as the titular sorcerer.
A few months ago, I read an interview with Cage in SFX Magazine in which he said that he helped create The Sorcerer’s Apprentice just because he really wanted to play a badass wizard. After seeing the film, this makes a lot of sense; it’s easy to believe that the character Balthazar Blake exists just to make Cage look cool.
Balthazar is an ancient wizard who has been alive since Arthurian times. He was once Merlin’s apprentice, and his search for the sorcerer who will inherit Merlin’s powers has led him to modern day New York City. Initially, I found Balthazar hilarious, because despite his centuries away from Camelot he still looks a bit West Country. Somehow the combination of the stringy hair, the long coat and the hat means he wouldn’t look out of place sitting in the back of the pub during folk gigs emptying pints of cider. Somehow I doubt anyone else got this impression, but if that’s what Cage was going for, then I salute him.
Unfortunately, aside from my own local delusions, Balthazar isn’t all that interesting; he’s a powerful sorcerer and an overly serious jerk, and that’s all we really know. Well, he also fancies Monica Bellucci, but who doesn’t?
The brief post-credits scene hints that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is angling for a franchise, but I don’t think it will be successful. What these sorts of family adventure films really need to be memorable are awesome, charismatic characters for the kids to pretend to be and the creepy older fangirls to make Etsy merchandise about. Unfortunately, with the possible exception of Alfred Molina’s dapper villain Horvath, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice doesn’t have any. Nobody wants to be make believe they’re creepy, cider-swilling Nic Cage and, mercifully, you can’t find any pairs of Converse covered in paintings of Jay Baruchel’s face.
Baruchel plays Balthazar’s apprentice, a dithering physics student called Dave. Sadly, as Dave is a main character, dialogue is inevitable, and Baruchel’s voice is a singularly annoying sound, and since his character is faithfully cast from the “awkward but loveable nerd protagonist” mold he natters on constantly with a gratingly nasal whine. He can raise a single eyebrow like a pro, but there my admiration for Baruchel ends. The only character more annoying than Dave is Horvath’s sidekick Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), who is some sort of noxious blend of Russell Brand and a bleached turd.
While it’s bland and occasionally irritating, the film isn’t all bad. The special effects are great and the spells are often quite cool, particularly the Hungarian Mirror Trap. The famous broom sequence from Fantasia gets a live action remake, but thankfully keeps the original music. Everybody knows Tesla coils are cool, and there’s even a nifty magic shop, and years of Buffy and Bruce Coville books have given me a weakness for magic shops.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an extremely silly film, but I found it difficult to hate. Let Cage do what he wants. If the guy wants to make a movie where he gets to be a sorcerer and shoot plasma bolts and fly around on a giant metal eagle, who can really begrudge him that small joy?
So, that’s it. 30 Nicolas Cage films in 30 days. Overall, I had a lot more fun than I expected, and I hope you enjoyed it too. If you did, then send me a message or leave a comment here or on the Facebook page, because I’d love to know what you think!
I’m going to take a break from Cage and enjoy going outside for a couple days, and then I’ll be back to answer any of your questions and sum up my conclusions, possibly with comedy graphs. See you then.
#29: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
I actually met Nicolas Cage once. Two weeks before I started this blog, I finished a shift at work and there he was in the street, smoking a cigarette. Immediately, my inner intrusive jerk took over, and I walked up and said hello. He wished me a merry Christmas, which was awesome. I didn’t tell him about my plans for the 30 Days, because I figured it would start me on the road to a restraining order. Instead, I told him that I really liked Bad Lieutenant.
I wasn’t lying. I loved Bad Lieutenant when I first saw it, and I loved it now. It’s an unusual film: twitchy, surreal and oddly funny. Certainly it’s some of Cage’s best work.
On paper, it doesn’t sound too promising. The clunky title (full name Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) makes it sound like a sequel or remake of 1992’s famously gritty Bad Lieutenant, although the two films have very little in common. Besides Cage, the cast also includes Val Kilmer and Xzibit. It was written by a guy who worked on musical TV nightmare Cop Rock. Not convinced? It’s also directed by art house legend Werner Herzog, and Herzog has a very strange sense of humour.
New Orleans cop Terence McDonagh (Cage) busts his back saving a prisoner during Hurricane Katrina. Dissatisfied with his prescribed painkillers, Terence starts smoking a lot of crack, along with anything else he can extort from suspects or steal from the evidence room. Terence is meant to be investigating a gruesome multiple homicide, but he’s more preoccupied with gambling, canoodling with his prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes), watching his alcoholic father’s dog and palling around with drug dealers.
This being Herzog’s work, Bad Lieutenant is a world away from the standard crime drama. There are no explosions or car chases to be found, and its lone gunfight is brief and set to cheery harmonica music. In one fantastically bizarre scene, Cage and the camera stare intently at a pair of imaginary iguanas for over a minute while Johnny Adams croons “Release Me” into our ears. Even in its less surreal moments, Bad Lieutenant’s music is wonderfully atmospheric, with Mark Isham’s eerie, slinky score coiling around the film like the water moccassin in the opening shot.
After a long run of mediocre to dreadful films, Bad Lieutenant is a much-needed reminder of how great Cage can be when he’s properly cast. His performance here has more in common with the energetic risk-taking of Vampire’s Kiss or Wild At Heart than it does with the drudgery of Next. Nobody else can go off the rails so brilliantly. His speech and body are wracked by a twitching, manic energy, and occasionally he breaks out in furious, wheezing laughter.
There are some other solid performances, particularly from Eva Mendes, who is thankfully given more to do here than she was in Ghost Rider. Both Kilmer and Xzibit, playing Terence’s partners in law and crime respectively, are clearly having a good time. But it’s Cage who dominates every scene, whether he’s discussing witness protection or threatening a pair of old ladies with a handgun.
Bad Lieutenant won’t appeal to everyone; it’s weird, moody, and offers no life lessons beyond “Never borrow someone else’s lucky crack pipe”. However, if it does pique your interest, don’t just look up the funny bits on YouTube. Get the whole thing, settle in on the couch and enjoy the Bad Lieutenant experience. Savour it: this is Cage doing what he does best.
#28: Knowing (2009)
There’s something a little retro about Knowing. Most of it feels like a ’90s disaster movie; it should have been made in the wake of Deep Impact. All the trappings are there: the obsessive hero has a scientific profession and an old but spacious wooden house, he and his son are dealing with the death of his wife, and at one point he hangs out in an observatory. I could have watched Knowing in 8th grade science when the teacher was having a lazy day, if it weren’t for two problems. First, it came out in 2009. Secondly, the science is too anaemic for even the last day of class, and Knowing prefers to take an awkward turn for the spiritual.
Nicolas Cage plays John Koestler, an astrophysics lecturer and recent widower. One summer day, the local elementary school unearths a time capsule from 1959 and his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) discovers a list of numbers inside. After a generous helping of whisky, John spots “9 11 01” in the string of numbers and curiously Googles it. It turns out some pretty bad stuff happened on 9/11/2001. The numbers predict a list of major disasters and their death rates, and only three more dates are left - but not for much longer.
One of Knowing’s central themes is that people can be on fire. As disaster porn goes, there are some very successful scenes; the two minute tracking shot through the aftermath of a plane crash is effectively nightmarish, and the subway sequence is ghoulishly fascinating.
Less impressive is the presence of the strange and creepy men who resemble Cage’s character in City of Angels and are suddenly interested in Caleb. Entertainingly, this prompts John to run screaming out into the night with a baseball bat and demonstrate his ass-kicking abilities on a tree. Here’s where things go all Left Behind: the men have “chosen” Caleb to survive the apocalypse and make a fresh start in a new world, so the chosen ones get raptured up in some big glowing spaceships and are taken away to green-screen space heaven.
This turn of events isn’t all that surprising. John starts the film off telling his kid that the existence of heaven is dubious, badgering his forlorn class to accept the meaninglessness of life and refusing to reconnect with his pastor father. Essentially, he’s Chekhov’s atheist; you can bet your Christian rock albums that by the end of the film he’ll hug his dad and rediscover his belief in a higher power.
Whether this personal journey is redemptive or distracting is down to the individual viewer. Personally, I’m in the latter camp: Knowing is at its best when it’s smashing things to bits, not hamfistedly trying to make a theological point. Plus, green-screen space heaven looks stupid, and I’m a miserable jerk who thinks “everyone dies” is the best possible ending to anything. Fire Birds, for example, would have been wonderful if the pilots had been killed by the South American drug runners, and if Guarding Tess had ended with the old lady inexplicably murdering Cage’s character and driving her Thunderbird off a cliff, I would have considered the film time well spent. Whoever’s in charge of the inevitable remakes, take notes.
#27: Bangkok Dangerous (2008)
Bangkok Dangerous lives up to its title: it’s set in Bangkok, there’s a recognisable quantity of danger, and it’s stupid and confusing.
Nicolas Cage plays a lonely American hitman named Joe, who travels to Bangkok for One Last Job to kill some guys for some other guys. Then the guys who hired him also want to kill him or something and none of it makes a lick of sense.
Joe is permanently bathed in sweat and his hair looks like an oily wolverine was sewn onto the back of his head and then died, possibly from drowning in sweat. This obviously attractive man quickly finds the attentions of a sweet, gentle local girl named Fon (Charlie Yeung), because it is not at all creepy for some 40-something guy from the States to go to Bangkok and hit on young women. She’s deaf, so their awkward dates are made even more awkward by his half-assed attempts to understand sign language.
While in Bangkok, Joe also befriends his local guide Kong (Chakrit Yamnam), who he mistreats horribly. “Can you teach me? I can help you,” Kong asks Joe; Joe shoves him into a wall, chops him in the throat and smugly says, “That was your first lesson.” Later, Joe explains his thinking through the film’s occasional and grating narration: “Why didn’t I kill him? Maybe because when I looked into his eyes, I saw myself… so I became his teacher.” Joe isn’t just skilled with guns and hand-to-hand combat - he can also spit out some really murderous cliches.
Bangkok Dangerous gets points for not showing the Thai dialogue in accented English, Captain Corelli style. However, the film seems wary of overusing subtitles, so most of the scenes between the Thai characters (that is, everyone not played Nicolas Cage) involve everyone beating each other up and yelling whatever the Thai equivalent of “hey!” is.
Honestly, there’s not a lot of talking in this movie at all, just ponderous glaring, some murdering, and a lot of tedious training montages intercut with montages of Joe staring at traditional dancers. Bangkok Dangerous thinks it’s a lot more artistic than it actually is. Much of the potentially entertaining violence is tastefully edited out, or inexplicably soundtracked to a heartbeat too slow and rhythmic to belong to either the assassin or the victim. There’s also a dramatic scene in which Joe sets fire to a painting of an elephant because he thinks it’s given him bad luck.
I found Bangkok Dangerous so painfully tedious that with 10 minutes of the film left I snapped and decided to watch the remainder on 1.5x speed. This improved it immensely, particularly the final moment in which Joe, filled with self-loathing and romantic regret, simultaneously shoots himself and the top baddie in the head, thus ending the movie. Are you annoyed I spoiled the ending? Tough. I hate Bangkok Dangerous.
#26: Next (2007)
For a film about a guy who can see through time, Next is pretty straight-forward. Rubbish Las Vegas magician Cris Johnson can see two minutes into his own future. He’s content to use his powers for gambling, but the FBI would prefer him to track down some nuke-toting Euro-terrorists. Unfortunately for them, Cris doesn’t want to get involved, and he isn’t sure he could help them anyway; the only vision he’s ever had of a future more than two minutes away is of a stranger named Liz (Jessica Biel) walking into a diner.
Wait, Nicolas Cage pulls Jessica Biel? Ugh. This movie is so unrealistic.
Okay, I’ll be kind. Next turns out to be a lot better than I expected, although after Ghost Rider that isn’t saying much. While it’s entirely unclear why Liz falls for the pouting, Bill Bailey-haired Cris, the scene where they finally meet is an entertaining Groundhog Day Lite as he predicts many potential pick-up lines, all of them failures. Cris’s ability makes the earlier chase scenes interesting, as he ducks punches and easily weaves between crowds of confused FBI agents.
The later, more bombastic action sequences are less successful, particularly the disappointing climax, which takes place in one of those ubiquitously catwalk-ridden industrial buildings Roger Ebert calls Steam and Flame Factories. By this point the novelty of Cris’s future visions has worn off, and the endless fake-outs as he avoids another two minutes of disaster become grating.
It doesn’t help that none of the cast seem very keen on the film. Both Cage and Biel read their lines as if staring at a teleprompter, while Julianne Moore plays her FBI agent with the face and demeanour of a woman who’s just discovered a family of cats crapping in her bed. Nobody in the FBI seems to have a problem with her belief in Cris’s ability or her spending excessive amounts of government time and money on capturing him, rather than the terrorists; then again, they’re probably terrified she’ll murder their families if they suggest doing otherwise.
Ultimately, while Next starts off surprisingly well, it lacks the plot to follow through on its original promise and eventually trails off into mediocrity. Not a bad metaphor for Cage’s career, really.
#25: Ghost Rider (2007)
Well, I thought as I settled in to watch Ghost Rider, this shouldn’t be too bad. I find most comic book movies are tolerable at the worst, the notable exception being Daredevil.
Unfortunately, it turns out Ghost Rider is written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the same guy responsible for Daredevil, and as the film began and Sam Elliot told me about the time “one ghost rider was sent to collect a contract worth a thousand evil souls” I began to realise what I was in for.
Teenage stunt biker Johnny Blaze (Matt Long) sells his soul to demonic bouffant Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) to cure his father’s cancer. Mephistopheles then kills his father anyway, because he’s eeeeeeevil! Nevertheless, the deal is binding, and young, handsome Johnny is struck down by a terrible curse: he transforms into Nicolas Cage.
Many years later, Johnny is a smug turd with a death wish who makes a living doing ridiculous things like jumping six helicopters at a time on his motorcycle. Unfortunately for his career, Mephistopheles comes back to collect and forces Johnny to become his chain-whipping, flame-skulled gimp minion, the titular Ghost Rider.
Johnny’s transformation into his totally freakin’ badass alter-ego is perplexing: Cage cackles away like an asshole while his face catches fire and random explosions fade in and out of the foreground. By the time his metamorphosis is complete, the effects already look dated; Ghost Rider is a hero whose special power is looking like that totally sweet animated gif from your mid-nineties web page.
For a guy with a flaming skull for a face, he’s pretty boring. Ghost Rider’s personality is limited to striding around in studded leather and occasionally yelling, “Yee-haw!” When he whistles, his flaming skeleton motorbike trundles over like a faithful dog, and when he picks up a firearm it becomes into a flaming bone gun, which frankly is weird and a little pointless.
His enemies are similarly bland. Echo-voiced Baddie #1 is apparently the Antichrist love-child of Edward Cullen and Noel Fielding, and the only sidekicks he can rustle up are Goth Rick James, Wet Elf and Guy-Who-Looks-Like-That-One-Guy-From-Prison-Break. Presumably Mephistopheles is also evil, but it’s unclear why he’s against more evil walking the Earth; instead he sends Ghost Rider out to protect the innocent and catch anyone who’s escaped from Hell. Overall, he’s about as cool and scary as Wet Elf.
Eva Mendes, meanwhile, is consigned to screaming duties as Johnny’s old flame (ba-dum tshh!); Johnny stands her up several times so he can go leather up and whip some naughty men, but she keeps coming back anyway. Have some self respect, Eva!
While the special effects are lukewarm, the script is worse. “Deal with my rider!” Mephistopheles sneers, but “writer” would probably be a more imposing threat. Even for an action-driven comic blockbuster, this is a clunker. Meeting Sam Elliott’s character, Johnny asks, “Who are you?” and is teeth-grindingly told, “The question is… who are you?” Ugh.
Ultimately, Ghost Rider is soulless, overly long and mundanely idiotic, so of course there’s a sequel coming out in a few weeks. Damn you, Mark Steven Johnson. Damn you to hell.
#24: The Wicker Man (2006)
This day had to come eventually. Next up, it’s the film that spawned a thousand YouTube clips and a violent hatred of Nicolas Cage in almost everyone unfortunate to see it. Finally, it’s time for The Wicker Man.
The Wicker Man is a terrible film, and notoriously so. The script is asinine, the acting is stilted, and as a remake it is wholly unnecessary. The original 1973 film was enjoyably bonkers, with a lot of bizarre musical numbers and naked women dancing in circles. Sadly, the newer version fails on all counts.
The first half of the film is incredibly dull. Many times I have forced people to watch The Wicker Man with fond memories of bear suits dancing through my head, only to remember that most of the film is about as entertaining as chewing on your own teeth. Cage trots aimlessly around the island while Angelo Badalamenti’s overbearing score blares and burlap-clad extras struggle to look mysterious. Our hapless hero suffers constantly from repetitive, melodramatic flashbacks and hallucinations, and the audience suffers with him.
None of this tedium is alleviated by Cage’s character Edward Malus, a dim-witted and uncharismatic California cop who charges around an island in Washington insulting its inhabitants (“Breeding? Sounds more like inbreeding to me!”) and breaking all their things. “Just call the police!” I groan as yet another smirking local gives him a cryptic answer. “Call the mainland and get some goddamn back-up!” But of course he doesn’t until the villagers are actively chasing him through the woods, and by then it’s way too late. This frustration makes his inevitable fiery demise unexpectedly satisfying.
Mercifully, The Wicker Man abandons this drudgery for its final 20 minutes in favour of flat-out screaming lunacy. Cage sweats and bugs his eyes out like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall. He steals a bike at gunpoint. He dresses up in a bear costume. He kicks Leelee Sobieski in the face. Finally, the islanders spout some awkwardly-phrased exposition, break his legs and set him on fire, putting an end to the whole dire affair. Hooray! Thank you, evil Pagan feminists, thank you!
Cage isn’t solely to blame for the terrible acting. Kate Beahan, playing Edward’s love interest Willow, apparently suffers from an advanced memory loss disease which leaves her unable to finish her lines or comprehend her surroundings; every time Cage addresses her, she stammers noncommittally and then shoots panicked glances at the scenery like a newborn dormouse in a basket of cat toys.
Additional complaints: the opening credits use Papyrus, which is a stupid font. Most of the characters talk like drunk English Lit students doing their worst Emily Dickinson impressions. Why is everybody named after plants? Don’t they run out of acceptably floral names? Is there someone on the island called Sister Dogwood or Sister Cabbage? And when Cage blinks, why does he do so with a freakishly audible squelch?
But really, what’s the point? I could spend all day detailing how utterly dreadful The Wicker Man is and it would only make some of you want to watch it more. Well, to my fellow movie masochists, I offer this advice: make sure you get the unrated DVD instead of the theatrical version, which is missing the wonderful scene in which Cage, forced into a bee-filled helmet, screams, “Oh, not the bees! Not the bees! Aaaagh! Oh, they’re in my eyes! My eyes! Aaagh! Aaaaargh!” This scene alone makes it The Wicker Man worth watching, but only barely.
So, that’s another two hours of my life wasted forever on this tripe. Oh well. At least its scenery is pretty.
#23: The Weather Man (2005)
I know what you’re thinking, and no, I didn’t misspell “wicker”. Despite the similar names, The Weather Man is a world away from its notorious cousin. This is a quiet, wintry little film, with no bees in sight.
Cage plays Chicago weather man David Spritz (he changed his name for the job), a failed writer and amateur archer. His career is taking off, but his personal life is a mess: his ex-wife (Hope Davis) hates him, and he hates her new boyfriend; his 12-year-old daughter (Gemmenne de la Peña) smokes and swears like Derek & Clive; his teenage son (Nicolas Hoult) is spending too much time with his creepy counsellor and is inexplicably British. Ominously, his disapproving father (Michael Caine) has begun taking regular trips to the hospital. Strangers throw food at him in the street. Worst of all, his hair looks stupid.
After watching The Weather Man, I went out (yes, I leave the house) to the pub with some friends (yes, I have friends); one of them complained that he’d rented The Weather Man because the case advertised “the feel-good comedy of the year”, but found it to be unexpectedly depressing. There’s certainly cause for complaint. The Weather Man is a nice little character piece, but aside from the public’s relentless desire to hurl food at David’s face and a brief but disturbing glimpse of an Abraham Lincoln costume, it isn’t funny.
Despite a solid performance from Cage and a few clever lines, The Weather Man never really takes off. Throughout the film, shots of the cracking Lake Michigan ice remind us that David’s winter of discontent is beginning to warm, but the ice never really thaws and neither does the brittle film itself, which is neither funny enough nor dramatic enough to be compelling. The Weather Man is okay, but there’s a nagging feeling that it could have been much, much better.
#22: Lord of War (2005)
For those of you who thought Leaving Las Vegas was too happy, here’s a film with lots of mutilated children.
Lord of War stars Nicolas Cage stars as cynical arms dealer Yuri Orlov. The film, which spans several decades of Yuri’s rise and rise, is dominated by Cage’s laconic narration. Initially I took the omnipresent narration and year-skipping to be an introduction to the main action of the film, until I checked the time and realised that what I assumed was a prologue had actually been going on for 40 minutes. Ultimately, however, the narration is one of the film’s most effective aspects: Yuri’s endless apathy for the atrocities in which he is involved is unrelenting, almost funereal.
Yuri is probably one of the least likeable characters Cage has ever played, including vampiric rapists and that screaming guy with the ‘stache and the Alan Partridge hair. It’s difficult to sympathise with a guy who hands out machine guns to children like candy. It’s almost equally difficult to care about the fate of his wilfully ignorant wife (Bridget Moynahan), or his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) who retreats into a cocaine-fuelled fantasy because he can’t stomach his brother’s work but can’t bring himself to stop that money coming in either.
There’s no real atonement for any of these characters. Not that Yuri would even try - he’s content to smugly assail his Interpol nemesis (Ethan Hawke) and the audience with lines like “Evil prevails.” The film ends with some cheerful text reminding us that the five permanent members of the UN security council are also the world’s biggest suppliers of firearms. As an endorsement for campaigns against international arms trafficking, it’s certainly effective.
As a film, however, Lord of Wars isn’t entirely successful; its broad timespan leaves it awkwardly structured and unfocused, and it is difficult to feel anything for the film’s characters beyond loathing. Unfortunately, this makes watching Lord of War about as entertaining as a few hours researching genocide on Wikipedia, which somewhat clashes with its stylish production values. Lord of War isn’t really a dark comedy - it’s just dark. What compels Yuri to become and continue being an arms dealer? There’s probably a more interesting answer than “He’s eeeeevil!” but you won’t find it here.
My other quibble with Lord of War, besides its plunging me deep into a black pit of despair, is its music, which suffers from the plague of Irritatingly-Obvious-Soundtrack-Selection-itis that seems to be sweeping Hollywood. Someone’s snorting cocaine? Clearly an occasion for Eric Clapton’s cover of “Cocaine”. Talking about how easy it was to make money in the eighties? Better play “Money (That’s What I Want)” to hammer that message home. Yuri is rhapsodising about the wonders of a Kalashnikov? Mute the sounds of gunfire and hit the audience with some Swan Lake. If you’ve already guessed that the collapse of Yuri’s marriage is set to “Hallelujah”… well, congratulations on having been to the cinema some time in the past decade.
If you want to feel really terrible about life for two hours, watch Lord of War. If you want to feel even worse for even longer, then have a look at the film’s IMDb message board, which is full of gems like “I enjoyed many parts of this movie until I realized what kind of anti american bull it is” and “Didn’t this make you want to be an arms dealer”. I despair entirely.