Lord of War

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Lord of War
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Andrew Niccol
Produced by Andrew Niccol
Chris Roberts
Nicolas Cage
Written by Andrew Niccol
Starring Nicolas Cage
Jared Leto
Bridget Moynahan
Ian Holm
Ethan Hawke
Narrated by Nicolas Cage
Music by Antonio Pinto
Cinematography Amir Mokri
Edited by Zach Staenberg
Entertainment Manufacturing Company
Ascendant Pictures
Saturn Films
Distributed by Lionsgate Films
Release dates
September 16, 2005 (USA)
January 4, 2006 (France)
February 16, 2006 (Germany)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United States
Language English[1]
Box office $72.6 million[2]

Lord of War is a 2005 crime war film[3] written, produced and directed by Andrew Niccol and co-produced by and starring Nicolas Cage. It was released in the United States on September 16, 2005, with the DVD following on January 17, 2006 and the Blu-ray Disc on July 27, 2006. Cage plays an illegal arms dealer, inspired by the stories of several real-life arms dealers and smugglers.[4][5][6] The film was officially endorsed by the human rights group Amnesty International for highlighting the arms trafficking by the international arms industry.[7][8]

Plot summary

The film begins with a voice-over introduction by Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), a Ukrainian-American gunrunner: Over 550 million firearms worldwide means one firearm per twelve people on the planet; he wonders how to arm the other eleven. Opening credits are set to the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth", and depict the life of a 7.62×39mm cartridge from construction in a Soviet Union weapons factory, to being shipped across the world to an African warzone, loaded into the magazine of an AK-47, and fired into the head of a child soldier.

In the early 1980s, Yuri is visiting a Brighton Beach restaurant, where a Russian mobster kills two would-be assassins. He is inspired to go into the arms trade, comparing the constant need for weapons to the similar human need for food. At his father's synagogue, he contacts an Israeli to obtain an illegal Uzi. After completing the first sale, Yuri convinces his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) to become his partner, and they leave their jobs at the family restaurant behind.

Yuri's first big break comes in the 1982 Lebanon War, when he sells guns to all sides of the conflict, despite witnessing war crimes and atrocities. As Yuri becomes more successful in the war's aftermath, his business comes to the attention of Interpol, and in particular idealistic agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke). Valentine is after glory rather than money, making it impossible for Yuri to bribe him as he does other government agents within Interpol and elsewhere in 1989.

During a sale in Colombia, a drug lord pays with six kilos of cocaine instead of cash, and shoots Yuri with one of his own pistols when the two argue. Yuri relents, later finding the sale of the cocaine paid better than money would have. After sampling their profits, Vitaly becomes heavily addicted and absconds with an entire kilogram, prompting a lengthy search before he is discovered in a remote village. After several months, Yuri checks Vitaly into rehab, and continues alone. He lures childhood crush Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan) to a false photo shoot and subsequently marries her. They later have a son, Nikolai (Nicky).

Yuri's second big break is the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After Mikhail Gorbachev resigns on Christmas Day 1991, Yuri flies to Ukraine and illegally buys tanks and weapons through his uncle, a former Soviet General. Expansion to Africa leads to Andre Baptiste Sr. (Eamonn Walker), a ruthless dictator waging a never-ending civil war in Liberia. During one flight into Africa, Yuri's cargo plane is intercepted and forced to land by a fighter jet commandeered by Jack Valentine and Interpol. He escapes arrest by landing outside the nearby city, and by simply handing out the cargo to locals, he ensures no weapons are on the plane by the time Valentine arrives. Surveillance of Yuri and his activities continues at his home in the United States, however. Unable to charge Yuri, Valentine tells Ava he is an arms dealer, prompting her to confront him and demand he stop his illegal business. For a time, Yuri agrees, but Andre Baptiste Sr. offers him even more money and soon he goes back.

Yuri soon goes to complete a sale in Africa in 2001, where a militia force allied with Andre Baptiste Sr. is visibly preparing to destroy a refugee camp. When Vitaly sees the militia hack an escaping woman and child to death with a machete, he pleads with Yuri to walk away. Yuri refuses; if he backs out, the militia will simply kill the Orlov brothers along with the refugees. Stricken with guilt, Vitaly steals a pair of grenades, destroying one of the weapons trucks and killing Baptiste Jr. Before he can reach the second truck, he is gunned down by RUF soldiers. Before expiring, Vitaly attempts to arm the remaining grenade but is prevented by Yuri, who surrenders it to the soldiers. Yuri reluctantly accepts half of the original diamond payment for the remaining weapons.

At home, Ava has discovered Yuri's cache of his arms dealing activities. She leaves with their son while Yuri's parents disown him after learning the circumstances surrounding the death of Vitaly and the true extent of Yuri's activities. When the U.S. Customs finds a bullet in Vitaly's corpse, Valentine arrests Yuri, who predicts correctly that a knock at the door will signal his release as a "necessary evil" who distributes weapons so major governments can deny involvement. Despite his losses, Yuri returns to arms dealing. Yuri remarks that it's what he does best, and that arms dealers are most likely to inherit the world one day "because everyone else is too busy killing each other." His final advice to the viewer is, "Never go to war, especially with yourself."

An onscreen postscript states that private dealers conduct less business than the five largest arms exporters – the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China – who are the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.


Historical accuracy

Plot details on the illegal arms market, particularly regarding purchases for West Africa in early 1990s, are closely based on real stories and people originating from the former Soviet Union.

The conflicts portrayed in the film are all real conflicts in real countries, particularly those in Lebanon, Sudan, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Liberia, Colombia and Sierra Leone. Conversely, the image of Interpol as an acting security agency is entirely fictional.


Some of the Russian language dialogues in the film (mostly those by Eugene Lazarev as Gen. Orlov) contain very obscene Russian mat wording, translated by far softer expressions in the original English subtitles. It is unclear whether these pieces were part of the script, or Lazarev's improvisation.

A scene in the film featured 50 tanks, which were provided by a Czech source. The tanks were only available until December of the year of filming, as the dealer needed them to sell in Libya.[12] The production team rented 3000 real SA Vz. 58 rifles to stand in for AK 47s because they were cheaper than prop guns.[13]


Critical reception

Lord of War received fairly positive reviews from critics; the film received a 61% rating on Rotten Tomatoes; the consensus states: "While Lord of War is an intelligent examination of the gun trade, it is too scattershot in its plotting to connect."[14] The film also received a special mention for excellence in filmmaking from the National Board of Review.

It received a 62/100 score from Metacritic.[15]

Box office

The film grossed $9,390,144 on its opening weekend, ranking #3 at the North American box office behind Just Like Heaven and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. After the film's 7 weeks of release it grossed a total of $24,149,632 on the domestic market in the US, and $48,467,436 overseas, for a worldwide total of $72,617,068.[16]

Home media

The UK DVD release of Lord of War includes, prior to the film, an advert for Amnesty International, showing the AK-47 being sold on a shopping channel of the style popular on cable networks. The American DVD release includes a bonus feature that shows the various weapons used in the film, allowing viewers to click on each weapon to get statistics about their physical dimensions and histories. The DVD bonus section also contains a public service announcement from Nicolas Cage that addresses the issue of illicit arms sales.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Lord of War". British Film Institute. London. Retrieved September 30, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Lord of War".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  6. William Norman Grigg: "Permanent War, Perpetual Profiteering"
  7. "Lord of War" (Press release). Amnesty International. 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Hamid, Rahul (Spring 2006). "Lord of War/Syriana". Cineaste. 31 (2): 52–55.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Brokers of War
  10. Noah Rosenberg, "Guilty Verdict for Russian in Arms Trial", New York Times, 2 Nov 2011.
  11. Burr, Ty (September 16, 2005). "Provocative 'War' Skillfully Takes Aim". The Boston Globe: D1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. History Television, series Fact and Film, episode "Lord of War"
  13. "Director finds real guns cheaper than props". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. September 14, 2005. Retrieved October 15, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Lord of War at Rotten Tomatoes
  15. Lord of War at Metacritic
  16. Lord of War at Box Office Mojo

External links