It begins with a startling title sequence: a bullet travels from destination to destination, from box to hand to gun, finally coming to rest within the soft, fleshy forehead of a young boy. After that, "Lord of War" only gets more audacious.
"This is the kind of movie that doesn't pull any punches and deals with a controversial subject," Nicolas Cage boasted like a proud papa. "It is timely. There are a lot of events that have transpired in the last few years that have made people concerned about what's going on here at home and around the world. I think we're not always sure what we're getting on the news, if it's the truth or not."
"Lord of War" attempts to tell the story behind the newscasts, employing the Oscar winner as Yuri Orlov, a morally ambiguous weapons dealer who not only sells weapons to anyone, but often goes out of his way to supply both sides of a conflict. Critics are already raving over Cage's transformative performance that begins with a young Yuri realizing that people will always need guns and bullets, and concludes several decades later with Cage's character transformed into an unfathomably wealthy, and impossibly lonely, king of his own crime empire.
Some have compared his Yuri with big-screen drug kingpin Tony Montana. "It's a huge compliment," Cage said. "There are no better performances than Al Pacino in 'Scarface.' I mean, that's as good as it gets. There are characters and performances that are as good, but there's nothing that's better than that. I love that movie."
Cage is careful to point out, however, that there are differences between the two men. "[Yuri's story] is the rise to power of a gunrunner, an outlaw of sorts, and in 'Scarface' you have the rise to power of a cocaine dealer. But the difference is that my guy is a salesman, and he presents himself as a very clean-cut, nice, calm, well-balanced person. So it's a very different kind of character. Not nearly as loaded with fireworks as Al's performance."
Further increasing comparisons between the two films, "War" tackles a timely subject many Americans would prefer swept under the rug by using an endearing, oddly maniacal central character to keep the audience entertained, not simply preached to.
Writer/director Andrew Niccol "did an extensive amount of research on gunrunners," Cage pointed out. "What I understand ... is that these are based on actual events of three different gunrunners' lives who did exist. He put them all together into one character, and that's my character."
Niccol — who similarly explored the real-life moral dilemmas of gene manipulation for "Gattaca," and reality television for "The Truman Show" — did such thorough research that the notoriously studious Cage was able to thankfully forgo tracking down any real-life arms dealers to gain inspiration for the performance. "All the reference I needed was in the script," he smiled.
While the scenes depicting shootouts, romances with beautiful women and close-call escapes from a relentless Interpol agent (Ethan Hawke) will keep audiences on the edge of their seats, Cage hopes the film will make people, and governments, consider the kinds of people making money off their weaponry purchases. "Knowledge is key; it's power," Cage insisted. "You need to know what you're getting involved with."
Cage, in fact, sees a parallel between his film and the recent ad campaign addressing the notion that those purchasing illegal drugs may be helping to fund terrorism. "I think this goes one step further and even goes behind the 'Just Say No' sign and thinks about the machinations that are really going on that put the 'Just Say No' sign together," he seethed, gaining momentum.
"This is saying, 'Who's covering up this, covering up that, to make it look like this so we can get the guns out there?' It's a pretty loaded finale in the film, which I won't give away, but it blows a lot of whistles, it doesn't pull any punches, and it doesn't back down. It is a film that was hard to get made in the studio system in America, because it's pretty uncompromising in its take on involvements in gunrunning around the world. So, largely, foreign investors were the people who had to put the picture together."
Continuing his passion-fueled rant, Cage said the answer isn't to just simply take everyone's guns away. "Look, I'm not here as a political activist," he said. "I do believe in the right to bear arms, for my own personal reasons specifically. I do not want to ever have to use a gun, I think it's the kind of thing that needs to be screened carefully, they need to be selected — who gets one. That's what the movie's really dealing with, [that] there needs to be better control of the arms.
"We've got 300,000 child soldiers in the world. These are kids who haven't even kissed a person, and they're being asked to do the most profound act of their lives: to kill a person, and to possibly even die in the process. That is what the movie is trying to say, more about that than the actual right to bear arms."
"Lord of War" opens in theaters Friday.
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