Lord of War

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Lord of War
The face of Nicolas Cage made from a collage of ammunition
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrew Niccol
Written byAndrew Niccol
Produced by
CinematographyAmir Mokri
Edited byZach Staenberg
Music byAntonio Pinto
  • Ascendant Pictures
  • Entertainment Manufacturing Company
  • VIP Medienfonds
  • Saturn Films
Distributed byLions Gate Films (United States)
Arclight Films (international)
Release date
  • September 16, 2005 (2005-09-16) (United States)
Running time
121 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$42-60 million[1][2]
Box office$72.6 million[3]

Lord of War is a 2005 crime drama film written and directed by Andrew Niccol, starring Nicolas Cage, Jared Leto, Bridget Moynahan, and Ethan Hawke. Lord of War follows Yuri Orlov as he enters the illegal arms trade shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, eventually becoming a well known and unscrupulous gun runner. The film was released in the United States by Lions Gate Films on September 16, 2005, and was released internationally by Arclight Films. The film grossed US$72.6 million at the box office.

Critical reception was mixed. Many publications praised the opening sequence's messaging along with Cage's performance as Yuri. Others criticized the film's lack of focus and handling of Yuri's character.

A sequel for Lord of War was announced on May 8, 2023.


Yuri Orlov, the eldest son of a family of Ukrainian refugees is visiting a restaurant in Brighton Beach where he witnesses a Russian mobster kill two assassins holding Kalashnikov rifles. The incident inspires him to go into the arms trade. After meeting a contact at his temple and completing his first sale of an Uzi sub-machine gun to a local mobster, Yuri convinces his younger brother Vitaly to become his partner.

The two brothers get their first break during the 1982 Lebanon War, where they sell weapons to both Israeli and Lebanese troops despite seeing the weapons be used to commit atrocities. As Yuri prospers, he eventually catches the attention of Interpol agent Jack Valentine. Valentine represents a unique threat to Yuri because he is after recognition, not money, and cannot be bribed. Vitaly becomes addicted to cocaine after a Colombian drug lord forces the brothers to accept several kilos of cocaine as payment. Yuri checks Vitaly into a drug rehabilitation clinic and continues alone. He uses his profits to seduce and marry his favorite model, Ava Fontaine.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yuri flies to Ukraine and illegally buys Soviet military hardware through his uncle, a former Soviet general who is overseeing the distribution of weapons to the newly formed Ukrainian Army. His uncle dies in a car bombing by Yuri's rival, arms dealer Simeon Weisz. Yuri expands his business to Africa, where he supplies Andre Baptiste Sr., a bloody Liberian dictator.

Valentine tells Ava that her husband is an arms dealer, prompting her to confront him. In response, Yuri starts trading timber and oil, but becomes frustrated with the lower profits of honest work. When Baptiste visits him in person and offers him the largest payday of his career, a stash of valuable blood diamonds, Yuri returns to crime. Ava follows him one day, unaware that Interpol is following her, and she discovers the shipping container that holds his arms-dealing office.

Yuri picks up Vitaly to assist him with a deal in Sierra Leone, where a militia force allied with Baptiste is preparing to destroy a refugee camp. Vitaly pleads with Yuri to abandon the deal after witnessing Baptiste's men kill a woman and child with machetes, but Yuri refuses, knowing that Baptiste's men would kill them. In response, Vitaly steals a pair of grenades and destroys a truck full of weapons, also killing Baptiste's son, before he is gunned down. Yuri is spared and receives half his payment for the remaining truckload. He pays a doctor to forge Vitaly's death certificate and remove the bullets from his body, but a missed bullet is found by customs officials, and Yuri is arrested. Ava divorces Yuri, and his parents disown him.

Valentine detains Yuri in anticipation of his trial and conviction, but Yuri is unfazed. He tells Valentine that a high-ranking officer will shortly knock on the door and insist on his release. He explains that while he is a criminal, his crime sometimes serves the interests of the U.S. government. Valentine hears a knock at the door, looks at Yuri for a moment, and rebukes him.

Yuri is released and soon returns to the arms trade. The film concludes with a statement that the five largest arms producers in the world—the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France—are also the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.


The cast also includes Sammi Rotibi as André Baptiste Jr, the son of André Baptiste Sr; Ian Holm as Simeon Weisz, an infamous arms dealer and rival to Yuri; Tanit Phoenix as Candy, Vitaly Orlov's girlfriend; and Eugene Lazarev, a Soviet Union general and Yuri's uncle.



Lord of War originated a couple of years before 2004 when Andrew Niccol, a New Zealand screenwriter, wrote the original script. An agent of the Creative Artists Agency eventually gave Philippe Rousselet, a French film producer, the script in 2004, summarizing it as a "Goodfellas in the world of arms dealing". Rousselet was impressed by the script but could not find an American studio that would take it on, as it was pitched to studios right before the beginning of the Iraq War, an 8 year armed conflict beginning with the United States' invasion of Iraq. As commented by Entertainment Weekly, studios were not eager to finance a film that drew "troubling conclusions" about the role of the American military providing weapons to dictators.[5][6]

An additional complication was that scenes in the script were written to occur in up to 13 different countries, requiring filming in varying locations. The film planned to make use of the United Kingdom tax fund Movision, but the expenses cap in Section 48 of the Finance Act of 2004 disqualified the film. South Africa provided financial incentives for filming, such as paying back 15% of all expenditures incurred within its borders.[5]

Rousselet reported to Variety that the financing necessary for the film was a mixture of debt taken on with Citibank West, the VIP3 German tax fund, and foreign sales. The remainder was paid by Rousselet.[5]


Shooting began on July 19, 2004.[1] Production was primarily based in South Africa, the Czech Republic and New York City. Scenes in Ukraine were filmed in the Czech Republic, and scenes in Africa, the Caribbean, and Beirut were all filmed in South Africa. Effort was taken to have extras that looked appropriate for every country depicted, both in attire and ethnicity. Due to the film's low budget, many scenes were constructed with only basic elements. One scene consisted entirely of 10,000 clay bricks and an extra in North African garb.[7]

While filming in the Czech Republic, Niccol discovered it was cheaper to purchase real firearms rather than props, and so he purchased 3,000 Kalashnikovs. Most were sold back at a loss, though some were sawed in half to remove them from circulation. Niccol commented that he found it disturbing how easy it was to purchase them.[8] Niccol met a variety of arms dealers during the production process, which he came to like. He attributed their likeability despite their profession to the fact that they were very good salesmen. A particular scene in the film featured a line of fifty T-72 tanks. These were provided by a source in the same country, and they told Niccol that he could use them until December, as they were needed back by then to sell to Libya.[9] NATO had to be told about the tanks, as satellite imagery suggested a weapons build up in the country. Another sequence of scenes showed Yuri co-piloting an Antonov An-12 transport plane. The plane was provided by an arms dealer, and it was actively being used for transporting firearms during the time of production.[7][10]


Box office[edit]

Lord of War released theatrically on September 16, 2005. Lions Gate Films provided distribution in the United States while Arclight Films distributed in other territories. It grossed a total of $24.1 million in the United States and Canada, and $48.5 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $72.6 million.[1][2][3]

The film grossed $9.4 million in the United States and Canada, $105 thousand in Latin America, $4.1 million in Europe, and $1.1 million in the Asian Pacific on there respective opening weekends. The film ranked number three in the opening weekend box office category behind Just Like Heaven and The Exorcism of Emily Rose in the United States and Canada.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 62% of 150 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.30/10. The website's consensus reads: "While Lord of War is an intelligent examination of the gun trade, it is too scattershot in its plotting to connect"[11] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 62 out of 100, based on 31 critics, indicating "generally favorable" reviews.[12] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B-" on an A+ to F scale.[13]

The opening scene of the film, showcasing the point of view of a bullet being made and eventually fired out of a rifle, was praised by critics.[14][15] David Denby of The New Yorker characterized the sequence as "malicious wit" from Niccol, commenting that by forcing the audience to watch it, Niccol suggested that they were complicit in the sale of firearms.[16] In a review by Harry Haun, writing for the Film Journal Institute, he wrote that he wished the film was as direct and "head on" as the opening sequence was.[17] Rahul Hamid of Cinéaste stated that the "sensational opening effectively makes the same point that the film will explore ... that violence around the world begins and ends directly at our doorstep."[18]

Praise was also given to Cage's performance as Yuri Orlov. Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post stated that Cage was cast well for Yuri, writing that "he has the right scale and size to portray a man who isn't meant to resemble anyone real".[19] Stephen McIntire, writing for Business Record [Des Moines], wrote that Cage's screen persona was a good balance of one-liners and witty dialogue.[20] Geoffry Macnab of Sight & Sound stated that Cage's interpretation of Yuri was someone audiences would root for due to his sleek charisma.[21]

Some publications criticized the focus of the film, questioning if the narrative and messaging were well balanced. In a review by the New York Amsterdam News, written by Natasha Grant, she characterized the narration by Cage as preachy without the audience being given a clear reason as to why they should care, stating the film may have been better as a documentary.[14] McIntire was critical of the film for "[playing] fast and loose with both external and internal facts." He goes on to state that the primary focus of the film is on the illegal sale of firearms, but the film concludes criticizing the sale of firearms by governments, which McIntire called a "blatant bait-and-switch".[20] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly commented that Lord of War was a trailer, acting as a lecture, and bearing the length of a feature film.[22] Mick LaSalle, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, criticized the film for failing to answer questions regarding the logistics of gun-running that it introduces, such as how buyers are found or where merchandise is stored.[23]

Critics also took issue with the handling of Yuri's character. LaSalle wrote that Yuri is a shell of a character designed to be a perfect gundealer and that, despite the character having turning points, the character hits metaphorical rock bottom twice, with LaSalle writing that the second did not have much meaning.[23] Haun referred to the character of Yuri as a "soft-focused ... central character", and that due to the fact he was inspired by five different real-world individuals, the film had too little humanity that could make Yuri understandable to the audience.[17] Macnab stated that it was ironic that Yuri, despite being charismatic, never changed throughout the film. He writes that in one particular scene, it appears Yuri is full of such intense self-loathing that he goes on a "booze and drug-fueled binge", but it does not have any narrative effect because he "always recaptures his composure". Macnab compared the writing of Yuri's conscience to Yuri's drug habit, being something that he is always able to get over, resulting in the critical nature of the arms trade coming across as ambivalent.[21]

Two years after the film's release Amnesty International, a non-governmental organization focusing on human rights, released a statement of support for the film due to it "[illustrating] the deadly impact of the uncontrolled global arms trade."[24]


The film received a special mention for excellence in filmmaking from the National Board of Review.[25]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Image of Viktor Bout being escorted off a personal jet by agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency of the United States
Viktor Bout in 2010. Publications claim that Yuri Orlov was inspired by 5 different gun runners, with some naming Bout in particular.[26]

Publications report that Yuri is based on five criminal arms dealers.[17][27][14] Forbes, The Independent, and The New York Times name Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, as a specific source of inspiration. Yuri shares characteristics with Bout, and several events in Lord of War mirror actions attributed to him. For example, both men held the nickname "Merchant of Death", sold weapons to both sides of the same conflict, and traveled with multiple passports, among other similarities.[26][28][29]

In 2015, the National Security Archive reported that Sarkis Soghanalian, an Armenian-Lebanese arms dealer, was an inspiration for Yuri's character.[30]


A sequel to Lord of War, titled Lords of War, was scheduled to begin filming in the fall of 2023. Cage is reportedly returning as Yuri Orlov, as well as producer alongside Rousselet, with Bill Skarsgård reportedly executive producing and playing the character's son. CAA Media Finance is handling the United States and Canada rights while FilmNation Entertainment is representing the film's sales in all other territories.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Dunkley, Cathy (May 13, 2004). "Thesps Going to 'War'". Daily Variety. Vol. 283, no. 28. p. 6. ISSN 0011-5509. EBSCOhost 13150554.
  2. ^ a b Dana, Harris (April 29, 2005). "Lions Gate is Lord of 'War'". Daily Variety. Vol. 287, no. 21. p. 5. ISSN 0011-5509. EBSCOhost 16914720.
  3. ^ a b c "Lord of War". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on August 20, 2023. Retrieved August 20, 2023.
  4. ^ Suebsaeng, Asawin (April 26, 2012). "Charles Taylor Convicted of War Crimes. Finally!". Mother Jones. Archived from the original on August 17, 2021. Retrieved August 20, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c Swart, Sharon (September 7, 2004). "Financial case study: 'Lord of War'". Variety. Archived from the original on May 13, 2023. Retrieved August 20, 2023.
  6. ^ Bierly, Mandi; Boeth, Jennifer; Brown, Scott; Cruz, Clarissa; Daly, Steve; Dombal, Ryan; Drumming, Neil; Feitelberg, Amy; Fiore, Raymond; Flynn, Gillian; Fonseca, Nicholas; Gunatilaka, Tim; Jensen, Jeff; Katz, Paul; Karger, Dave; Kirschling, Gregory; Kung, Michelle; Labrecque, Jeff; Miller, Nancy (August 19, 2005). "Lord of War". Entertainment Weekly (834). Marc Bernardin (ed.): 38–38. ISSN 1049-0434. EBSCOhost 18012347.
  7. ^ a b The Making of 'Lord of War' (DVD). Lions Gate Films. January 17, 2006.
  8. ^ "Director finds real guns cheaper than props". The New Zealand Herald. September 13, 2005. Archived from the original on August 20, 2023. Retrieved August 20, 2023.
  9. ^ Tall, Kevin (December 18, 2020). "Why Nicolas Cage's Lord Of War Used Real Guns Instead Of Props". Looper. Retrieved February 20, 2024.
  10. ^ Chadwick, Alex (September 16, 2005). "'Lord of War': An Arms Dealer as Hero". NPR. Archived from the original on October 26, 2023. Retrieved October 26, 2023.
  11. ^ "Lord of War". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Edit this at Wikidata
  12. ^ "Lord of War". Metacritic. Fandom, Inc. Retrieved January 8, 2024.
  13. ^ "Cinemascore - Movie Title Search". Cinemascore. Archived from the original on May 24, 2019. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  14. ^ a b c Grant, Natasha (September 15, 2005). "Walk a mile in a gun runner's shoes with 'Lord of War'". New York Amsterdam News. Vol. 96, no. 38. p. 22. ISSN 1059-1818. EBSCOhost 18877090.
  15. ^ Koehler, Robert (September 7, 2005). "Film Review - Lord of War". Daily Variety. Vol. 288, no. 46. ISSN 0011-5509. EBSCOhost 18212236.
  16. ^ Denby, David (September 26, 2005). "GUNS AND MONEY". The New Yorker. Vol. 81, no. 29. ISSN 0028-792X. EBSCOhost 18337626.
  17. ^ a b c Haun, Harry (November 2005). "Lord of War". Film Journal Institute. Vol. 108, no. 11. p. 110. ISSN 1526-9884. EBSCOhost 19222407.
  18. ^ Hamid, Rahul (2006). "[Untitled]". Cinéaste. Vol. 31, no. 2. pp. 52–55. JSTOR 41689973.
  19. ^ Hornaday, Ann (September 16, 2005). "'Lord of War' Drives The Devil's Bargain". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 5, 2023.
  20. ^ a b McIntire, Stephen (September 19, 2005). "'Lord of War' misfires". Business Record [Des Moines]. Vol. 23, no. 38. p. 50. ISSN 1068-6681. Gale A137013667.
  21. ^ a b Macnab, Geoffry (December 2005). "Lord of War". Sight & Sound. Vol. 15, no. 22. p. 2. ISSN 0037-4806. EBSCOhost 505170041.
  22. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (September 23, 2005). "Lord of War". Entertainment Weekly. No. 841. p. 64. ISSN 1049-0434. EBSCOhost 18493308.
  23. ^ a b LaSalle, Mick (September 16, 2005). "'Lord of War' lost in no-man's-land between fact and fiction". SFGate. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  24. ^ "The Lord of War" (Press release). Amnesty International. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. Retrieved August 20, 2023.
  25. ^ "2005 Award Winners". National Board of Review. December 2005. Archived from the original on August 14, 2021. Retrieved December 22, 2022.
  26. ^ a b Bushard, Brian (December 8, 2022). "Viktor Bout: Here's What To Know About Russia's 'Merchant Of War' And Why He Was The Prisoner Exchanged For Brittney Griner". Forbes. Archived from the original on August 21, 2023. Retrieved August 21, 2023.
  27. ^ Travers, Peter (October 6, 2005). "Lord of War". Rolling Stone. No. 984. ISSN 0035-791X. EBSCOhost 18444125.
  28. ^ Hopkins, Valerie; Yuhas, Alan (December 8, 2022). "Who Is Viktor Bout, the Arms Dealer in the Swap for Brittney Griner?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on January 9, 2023. Retrieved August 21, 2023.
  29. ^ Massie, Graeme (December 8, 2022). "'Merchant of death': Who is Viktor Bout, the arms dealer who was swapped for Brittney Griner". The Independent. Retrieved February 14, 2024.
  30. ^ Harper, Lauren (ed.). "The Merchant of Death's Account Book". The National Security Archive. Archived from the original on May 4, 2023. Retrieved August 26, 2023.
  31. ^ Vlessing, Etan (May 8, 2023). "Cannes: Nicolas Cage, Bill Skarsgard Nab Leads in Sequel 'Lords of War'". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on May 30, 2023. Retrieved August 20, 2023.

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