Lord of War

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Lord of War
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrew Niccol
Produced by
Written byAndrew Niccol
Music byAntonio Pinto
CinematographyAmir Mokri
Edited byZach Staenberg
  • Entertainment Manufacturing Company
  • Saturn Films
  • Ascendant Pictures
Distributed byLionsgate
Release date
  • September 16, 2005 (2005-09-16) (United States)
Running time
121 minutes
  • United States
  • Germany[1]
  • France
Budget$50 million
Box office$72.6 million[2]

Lord of War is a 2005 American crime drama film[3] written, produced, and directed by Andrew Niccol, and co-produced by and starring Nicolas Cage.

The film was released in the United States on September 16, 2005, to positive reviews but was a commercial failure.

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]


In the early 1980s, Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), the eldest son of a family of Ukrainian refugees, is visiting a Brighton Beach restaurant, where he witnesses a Russian mobster kill two would-be assassins holding Kalashnikov assault rifles. He is inspired to go into the arms trade, comparing the constant need for weapons to the similar human need for food. After completing his first sale, Yuri convinces his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) to become his partner. They leave their family's restaurant behind and go into business together.

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 represents a unique threat to Yuri because he is after glory, not money, and thus cannot be bought off.

Vitaly becomes addicted to cocaine after a Colombian drug lord uses drugs to pay for an arms deal. Yuri checks Vitaly into drug rehabilitation and continues his business alone. He lures childhood crush Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan) to a false photo shoot, where they fall in love and subsequently get married.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yuri flies to Ukraine and illegally buys tanks and weapons through his uncle, a former Soviet general overseeing a newly independent Ukrainian Army arsenal with a massive surplus now that the Cold War is over. Yuri then expands to Africa and begins a business relationship with 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 by Valentine and forced to land. Yuri escapes arrest by landing in a remote area and distributing the aircraft's illegal cargo to the locals. 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 complies and does his best to find alternate, legal ways of doing business, but Andre Baptiste Sr. visits him personally, offering a staggering sum in diamonds if he will return to black market arms dealing. Unable to refuse, Yuri agrees.

Yuri convinces Vitaly to come along on a sale in Sierra Leone in 2001, where a militia force allied with Baptiste is visibly preparing to destroy a refugee camp. Sympathizing with the refugees, Vitaly pleads with Yuri to abandon the deal, but Yuri refuses, arguing that if they do the militia will also kill them. Stricken with guilt, Vitaly steals a pair of grenades, destroying one of the weapon trucks and killing Baptiste Jr. Vitaly is shot and killed when the militia retaliate. Yuri reluctantly accepts half of the original diamond payment for the remaining weapons.

Yuri ships his brother's remains back to the United States. He pays a doctor to forge a phony death certificate and to remove the bullets from Vitaly's body, but one bullet remains, and Yuri is stopped by the ATF. Meanwhile, while being followed by Jack Valentine, Ava finds Yuri's security container, finally establishing definitive proof of Yuri's guilt. Ava also finds the container full of her paintings, which Yuri secretly bought. Ava takes their son and leaves him. When Yuri calls his parents, his mother says, "Both my sons are dead."

Valentine detains Yuri and tells him that he has a long jail sentence ahead of him. In a forward statement, Yuri tells Valentine soon an officer will come to the door and order his release. Yuri explains this by pointing out that his services are invaluable to US foreign interests, as he sometimes supplies "the enemies of their enemies", which the US government cannot be seen supplying. Valentine then hears a knock at the door. Realizing Yuri was right, he states, "I would tell you to go to hell, but I think you're already there."

Yuri soon returns to the arms trade, claiming that it is what he does best. The film concludes with a statement on how the five largest arms producers in the world are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.


Historical accuracy[edit]

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 main protagonist, Yuri Orlov, is loosely based on several people.
    • His character as the world's arms dominator is based on Lebanese-Armenian arms dealer Sarkis Soghanalian.
    • He shares his surname with Oleg Orlov, a Russian businessman arrested in Ukraine on suspicion of smuggling missiles to Iran. In 2007, Oleg Orlov was strangled in Kiev's Lukyanivska Prison during the investigation into his activities.[9]
    • TV channel History claims that Orlov's life is based on Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer notorious for smuggling arms and other merchandise through several aviation-company fronts.[10]
    • His background is loosely inspired by that of Semion Mogilevich, a Ukrainian-born suspected mastermind in Russian organized crime.
    • The way he was imprisoned and later released resembles Edwin P. Wilson, a retired US intelligence officer who smuggled arms for Libya.
  • The character Jack Valentine is partly based on Lee S. Wolosky, a member of the U.S. executive who doggedly pursued the real-life Viktor Bout as he sought refuge in various African and Middle Eastern countries. The film unrealistically depicts him as personally pursuing Orlov across the world and on one occasion arresting him; in reality, Interpol does not itself engage in law enforcement activities and has no power of arrest, but only facilitates cooperation of national law enforcement agencies.
  • The character Andre Baptiste Sr. is partly based on Charles Taylor, the President of Liberia until 2003.[11]
  • The character Andre Baptiste Jr. is partly based on Charles Taylor's son, Charles McArther Emmanuel. The character wields a gold-plated AKS-47, much like one found in the private quarters of Saddam Hussein's son Uday Hussein during the US-led invasion of Iraq.
  • The character Colonel Oliver Southern hints at Oliver North, known for his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The conflicts portrayed in the film are all real conflicts in real countries, particularly those in Lebanon,[a] Sudan,[b] Cambodia,[c] Afghanistan,[d] Liberia,[e] Colombia[f] and Sierra Leone.[g] Conversely, the image of Interpol as an acting security agency is entirely fictional.


The producer largely financed the film with funding from outside the U.S. He claimed this was due to the highlighting of U.S. involvement in the international arms trade.[12]

Some of the Russian language dialogues in the film (mostly those by Eugene Lazarev as Gen. Volkov) 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.[13] The production team bought 3000 real SA Vz. 58 rifles to stand in for AK-47s because they were cheaper than prop guns.[14]


Critical reception[edit]

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."[15] The film also received a special mention for excellence in filmmaking from the National Board of Review. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave the film three and a half out of four stars, writing "After movies like Hotel Rwanda, Before the Rain and Welcome to Sarajevo, the cold cynicism of Lord of War plays like a deadly footnote."[16]

It received a 62/100 score from Metacritic.[17]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed $9,390,144 on its opening weekend, ranking number three 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 (US and Canada), and $48,467,436 overseas, for a worldwide total of $72,617,068.[18]

Home media[edit]

Lord of War was released on Blu-ray & DVD on January 18, 2006.[19] A 4K UHD Blu-ray transfer of Lord of War was released on March 19, 2019.[20]

The UK DVD release of Lord of War includes, prior to the film, an advertisement 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.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "Lord of War". British Film Institute. London. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  2. ^ "Lord of War".
  3. ^ Deming, Mark. "Lord of War". Allmovie. Retrieved September 30, 2012.
  4. ^ "Viktor Bout: in the Movies". Ruudleeuw.com. December 24, 2005. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  5. ^ Lintner, Bertil (November 10, 2007). "A necessary evil". Asia Times. Retrieved 2012-10-30.
  6. ^ William Norman Grigg: "Permanent War, Perpetual Profiteering" Archived 2007-09-18 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Lord of War" (Press release). Amnesty International. 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  8. ^ Hamid, Rahul (Spring 2006). "Lord of War/Syriana". Cineaste. 31 (2): 52–55.
  9. ^ Brokers of War[dead link]
  10. ^ Noah Rosenberg (2 November 2011). "Guilty Verdict for Russian in Arms Trial". The New York Times. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  11. ^ Burr, Ty (September 16, 2005). "Provocative 'War' Skillfully Takes Aim". The Boston Globe: D1.
  12. ^ http://www.cinemareview.com/production.asp?prodid=3109
  13. ^ History Television, series Fact and Film, episode "Lord of War"
  14. ^ "Director finds real guns cheaper than props". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. September 14, 2005. Archived from the original on 6 September 2012. Retrieved October 15, 2011.
  15. ^ Lord of War at Rotten Tomatoes
  16. ^ "Lord of War". RogerEbert.com. September 2005. Archived from the original on 2020-01-20. Retrieved 2020-03-15.
  17. ^ Lord of War at Metacritic
  18. ^ Lord of War at Box Office Mojo
  19. ^ "Lord of War DVD Release Date January 17, 2006". DVDs Release Dates. Retrieved 2019-01-23.
  20. ^ Lord of War 4K Blu-ray, retrieved 2019-01-23

External links[edit]