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Sometimes an action movie can be forgiven for a terrible screenplay. Bad lines have worked a certain magic for Arnie and Keanau Reeves, but when clichés dribble from the lips of every character, in every scene, like bolognaise sauce at a cheap Italian restaurant it’s hard not to cringe.
Similarly, you’d think that action were a requirement for an action film, but unless your endorphins are pumped by a couple of blinged-up Liberians roaring around Monrovia with some token booty in the back seat, firing their AK-47s skyward, then Lord of War will sorely disappoint.
Perhaps Lord is not an action movie at all. Perhaps it’s comedy, or drama, or a screen adaptation of some dreary post-war ennui novel where the hero is an arms dealer rather than a detective in a long grey coat. I don’t even think the producers know. This film is a string of caricature scenes with stock dialogue, plastic characters and some terrible casting. Sorry, but Ian Holm can’t play a ruthless arms dealer after Bilbo Baggins. And where is it written that every film about one man’s descent into a miserable and sorry hell of a life must carry with it a droll voice-over explaining every single nuance of the story? Whatever happened to the active audience? Are we now merely passive popcorn disposing automatons?
Though Lord of War travels the world, I felt like we never left an LA soundstage, much less visited Cold-War Ukraine. Even on a rain lashed Wellington night I felt not a hint of Russian chill, be it cultural, or meteorological. Monrovia didn’t breathe Africa, and nor did the Sahara blind me with sunlight. This film, albeit about a fast-talking, high-living travelling salesman, seriously lacked the cool-factor of Blow.
Lord of War pretends to be an ethical meditation, and that’s fine. The true home of ethical debate is in fiction and art. We read, we look at paintings, we view films and then we think. But Lord simply tosses a few facts about arms deals in our face and prompts us to conclude ‘guns are bad, mmmkay’.
This film had so much potential as an action rollercoaster, so much potential as a probing expose, but ends up being neither. The bad guys aren’t scary, Nicholas Cage’s lead is not likable enough, and the hard questions are much too soft. The true crime is not the sale of arms to adolescent African warriors, but making a film like this, which reduces the rainbow of human complexity to a black and white still.
Directed by Andrew Niccol
Hoyts, Reading Cinemas