Lord of War
dir. Niccol
Opens Fri Sept 16
Various Theaters

As arms dealer Yuri Orlov, Nicolas Cage has his shit together: A confident strut, expensive suits, cool sunglasses, and an easy amorality. He's even got coy, cat-and-mouse banter with Agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke). If nothing else, Orlov knows that he's untouchable, despite his trade—the selling of weapons to the highest bidder, an act that furthers the world's dirtiest wars.

So with a character like Orlov, it's a bit of a quandary as to why Lord of War is so damn lousy. That goes double when you consider that the film is more stylistically visceral than anything else currently playing, and at times it, like Orlov, is both refreshing and disgusting.

But then there's the rest: the lameass supporting characters, from Orlov's oblivious trophy wife (Bridget Moynahan), to his even dumber brother (Jared Leto), to his smarmy cop nemesis (Hawke). With just its concept and lead character alone, Lord of War should earn some credit—but there's a turning point that occurs when one realizes the supporting characters are just too lame to care about. Or maybe it comes when writer/director Andrew Niccol includes a shot of Leto snorting coke... set to Eric Clapton's "Cocaine." Or, more likely, it's that once you get past the cool concept of Orlov's fascinating lifestyle, there's not much else to Niccol's story.

Worse, it's all tremendously uneven. Amir M. Mokri's searing cinematography is paired with a frustrating plot that hints at sneering, smart satire before devolving into predictable tear jerking. While there's Cage's smart performance (as well as that of an underused Ian Holm, who plays a stately, outdated arms dealer), there's also the bored-looking Leto and a vapid Moynahan. And for all of Niccol's stylish montages and slick music choices ("Cocaine" notwithstanding), there are reams of fascinating material and tangential political ramifications that are virtually ignored. It's all cool, and kind of fun, and ultimately too bad, because Cage's Orlov is a hell of a character. Yet even though he's in almost every frame of Lord of War, he still goes to waste.