Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Lord of War (2005)

Forget the televison ads, which make this look like a half-cracked action comedy -- this is an industrial-strength black satire a la Catch-22 with Nicolas Cage in the role of Milo Minderbinder. (In a way, this tells the sour Buffalo Soldiers where to go.) There's a good deal of absurdist fun to be had at the start, and the film hits its marks properly. But like all good satire, this is shot through with undercurrents of rage, and eventually writer/director Andrew Niccol drops the facade of comedy and starts throwing punches at the real targets. (Cage's last monologue is poisonously perfect.) Niccol's thankfully improved as a writer and a director since the moribund Gattaca, so that his mise-en-scene is lively and his script actually makes good on the ideas it advances. He does lay it on pretty thick (I got the kid-killing aspect the first six times you threw it at me, dude), but then Andrew's always been a go-big-or-go-home kind of guy, and it works within the film's hyperbolic universe. Cage is excellent as the kind of self-justifying snake he seems made for, and he only gets better the farther his character sinks into the moral morass this movie sticks him in. (The murder of a major character proves pivotal in this respect.) In other news, Bridget Moynahan still can't act, and even though the film makes a joke of it it's still glaringly obvious; also, when did Ethan Hawke turn into the go-to guy when you need a morally unshakable good cop?

[ADDENDUM, 9/29/05: It behooves me to state that this horrifyingly underrated film also proves to be an example of a satiric phenomenon termed elsewhere as The Dogville Twist, wherein we find ourselves sympathizing and/or rooting for characters whom we eventually realize are unworthy of such sympathy. However, seeing as how Dogville doesn't strike me as terribly satiric, I would stump to have this phenomenon re-dubbed The Man Bites Dog Twist. Same breed, different bite.]

Grade: B+


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