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The Tao of Nicolas Cage: When it Comes to War, Cage is the Lord

Cage gets in a bath of blood and refuses to take sides in order to become the Lord of  War.
By  · Published on September 1st, 2017

Cage gets in a bath of blood and refuses to take sides in order to become the Lord of  War.

“They say, ‘Evil prevails when good men fail to act.’ What they oughta say is, ‘Evil prevails.'”

Nic Cage has made a career out of making fascinating movies. I mean there’s a reason I write about his films every week. Twelve years ago he made one of his most fascinating movies with Lord of War.

In Lord of War Cage stars as Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant that moved to the US as a small child with his family. Yuri is now an adult and he’s tired of doing nothing with his life. He works at his parents’ restaurant in Brooklyn and that’s about it. He spends his free time thinking about his dream girl, a model named Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan).

After witnessing a shootout between some Russian gangsters Yuri discovers the path he wants to take in life. Violence will always exist in the world and violent people will need tools to carry out their violence. Yuri is going to supply those tools.

His first deal is just one gun. It goes over a little awkwardly but it’s exciting and it gets done. Yuri compares it to the first time you have sex. He’s instantly hooked and is ready to jump in the arms race full time. He pulls in his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) to help get the business started.

It doesn’t take long before their business is rolling but they’re only dealing with the relatively small time guys. Gangsters and the like are fine but the real money comes when you deal with the people fighting real wars. And Yuri needs that money because he’s already living well beyond his means.

Nearly a decade after he sells his first gun, Yuri’s gun running explodes. The Cold War comes to the end and that means there are plenty of countries in the former Soviet Union with way more weapons than they need. Yuri manages to get his hands on those weapons and flip them back to those same countries and beyond. The cash is coming in so fast that Yuri can be longer live beyond his means even if he wanted.

Now with all the money he could imagine and his dream wife life should be perfect for Yuri. It should be but it’s not. Along the way, his brother gets hooked on coke and is in and out of rehab. Plus there’s Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke) who is hot on his tail, poised to bring him down the moment he slips up. And he’s upsetting other arms dealers because he does things his own way.

Arms dealers, much like mobsters and Major League Baseball players, operate by a set of unwritten rules. The rules may be dumb in the grand scheme of things, but they’re old school and the rules are the rules. Yuri doesn’t play by the rules and that’s how he quickly works his way to the top.

What I love about Lord of War is that it doesn’t simply glorify the world of gunrunning. Yes, we see the benefits Yuri gets from his shady dealings, but we see the flip side as well. His ups are offset by his downs. At one point he gets stuck in the middle of the wars in West Africa and it ain’t pretty.

Also Yuri isn’t a good guy and the film makes that clear. He’s likeable and charming, a testament to Cage’s performance, but he’s a bad dude that only cares about himself. He’s basically an anti-hero.

The film also makes it a point to let the audience know that guys like Yuri may be major players in the arms game but big governments play an equally large role. Despite all the effort Valentine puts into bringing down Yuri, those that outrank him are actually hiring Yuri to do their dirty work. And there’s lots of dirty work and the film doesn’t sugarcoat it. Once the weapons exchange hands we see what they’re used for.

While all the characters are fictional they are based on real criminal gun traffickers and the details appear to be accurate to how the world operates in reality. Amnesty International, a human rights group, officially endorsed the film for being an accurate portrayal of the arms dealing.

Cage gives an outstanding performance. I know I say that a lot but I mean it every time. This movie checks all the signature Cage boxes. He narrates the film, something he seems to do quite frequently. I’m positive Cage narrates a higher percentage of his films than any other actor ever. At times he’s funny and charismatic and then in the next scene he’s cold and heartless. He’s refrained and subtle but still able to turn it up to the next level. This is Cage.

Even how Cage landed the part is so very Cageian. According to an interview with Total Film back in November of 2005, Cage shared a story about how director Andrew Niccol put a toy Uzi to his head and asked him if he was going to accept the part. What other actor would get cast that way?

“There was something unusual about it. The fact that it was this story of a gunrunner was something I had never seen treated before,” Cage told Total Film in that same interview when asked what drew him to the part. “I thought it was dark. Initially, I didn’t think the character would be likeable or that people would want to see this man, and then I thought, ‘Well, that’s what’s unique about it.’”

What really boggles my mind about Lord of War is that for as great as it is I don’t think it would even make my top ten Cage films of all time. In fact, if I were to rank all of Cage’s films, a task I couldn’t possibly ever complete, Lord of War would maybe come in around fifteenth or so. Fifteenth! Think about how crazy that is. How good of an actor must you be to have Lord of War be your fifteenth best movie? Pretty damn good. And Cage is pretty damn good.

I leave you this week with a scene from Lord of War that shows Cage doing many of the great things he does.

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Chris Coffel is a contributor at Film School Rejects. He’s a connoisseur of Christmas horror, a Nic Cage fanatic, and bad at Rocket League. He can be found on Twitter here: @Chris_Coffel. (He/Him)