Lord of War

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Lord of War
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Andrew Niccol
Produced by Andrew Niccol
Chris Roberts
Nicolas Cage
Written by Andrew Niccol
Starring Nicolas Cage
Jared Leto
Bridget Moynahan
Ian Holm
Ethan Hawke
Narrated by Nicolas Cage
Music by Antonio Pinto
Cinematography Amir Mokri
Edited by Zach Staenberg
Entertainment Manufacturing Company
Ascendant Pictures
Saturn Films
Distributed by Lionsgate Films
Release date
September 16, 2005 (USA)
January 4, 2006 (France)
February 16, 2006 (Germany)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United States
Language English[1]
Budget $50 million
Box office $72.6 million[2]

Lord of War is a 2005 war crime film[3] written, produced, and directed by Andrew Niccol, and co-produced by and starring Nicolas Cage. It was released in the United States on September 16, 2005, with the DVD following on January 17, 2006, and the Blu-ray Disc on July 27, 2006. 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]

The subject and the topics covered are reminiscent of an Italian film of 1974 (directed and starring Alberto Sordi) While There's War There's Hope.

Plot summary[edit]

In the early 1980s, Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage), the eldest son of Ukranian refugees, is visiting a Brighton Beach restaurant, where he witnesses a Russian mobster kill two would-be assassins with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. He is inspired to go into the arms trade, comparing the constant need for weapons to the similar human need for food. At his father's synagogue, he contacts an Israeli to obtain an illegal Uzi. After completing the first sale, Yuri convinces his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto) to become his partner, and they leave their jobs at the family restaurant behind.

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 is after glory rather than money, making it impossible for Yuri to bribe him.

During a sale in Colombia, a drug lord pays with 6 kg of cocaine instead of cash, and shoots Yuri with one of his own pistols when the two argue. Yuri relents, later finding the sale of the cocaine paid better than money would have. After sampling their profits, Vitaly becomes heavily addicted and absconds with an entire kilogram, prompting a lengthy search before he is discovered in a remote village. After several months, Yuri checks Vitaly into drug rehabilitation, and continues alone. He lures childhood crush Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan) to a false photo shoot and subsequently marries her.

Yuri's second big break is the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After Mikhail Gorbachev resigns on Christmas Day 1991, Yuri flies to Ukraine and illegally buys tanks and weapons through his uncle, a former Soviet general. Expansion to Africa leads to 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 and forced to land by a fighter jet commandeered by Jack Valentine. He escapes arrest by landing outside the nearby city, and ensures that no arms are found on the plane by handing everything 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 agrees, but Andre Baptiste, Sr. offers him even more money and soon he goes back.

Yuri soon goes to complete a sale in Africa in 2001, where a militia force allied with Baptiste is visibly preparing to destroy a refugee camp. When Vitaly sees the militia hack an escaping woman and child to death, he pleads with Yuri to walk away. Yuri refuses; if he backs out, the militia will simply kill them and everybody else. Stricken with guilt, Vitaly steals a pair of grenades, destroying one of the weapons trucks and killing Baptiste, Jr. Vitaly is killed in the process. Yuri surrenders and reluctantly accepts half of the original diamond payment for the remaining weapons.

At home, Ava has discovered Yuri's cache of his arms-dealing activities. She leaves with their son while Yuri's parents disown him after learning the circumstances surrounding the death of Vitaly. When the U.S. Customs finds a bullet in Vitaly's corpse, Valentine arrests Yuri, who predicts correctly that a knock at the door will signal his release as a "necessary evil" who distributes weapons so major governments can deny involvement.


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, who doggedly pursued the real-life Viktor Bout as he sought refuge in various African and Middle Eastern countries.
  • 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, Sudan, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Liberia, Colombia, and Sierra Leone. Conversely, the image of Interpol as an acting security agency is entirely fictional.


Some of the Russian language dialogues in the film (mostly those by Eugene Lazarev as Gen. Orlov) 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.[12] The production team rented 3000 real SA Vz. 58 rifles to stand in for AK 47s because they were cheaper than prop guns.[13]


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

It received a 62/100 score from Metacritic.[15]

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.[16]

Home media[edit]

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.


  1. ^ a b "Lord of War". British Film Institute. London. 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. 2005-12-24. Retrieved 2012-10-30. 
  5. ^ Nov 10, 2007 (2007-11-10). "Bertil Lintner: "A necessary evil"". Atimes.com. Retrieved 2012-10-30. 
  6. ^ William Norman Grigg: "Permanent War, Perpetual Profiteering"
  7. ^ "Lord of War" (Press release). Amnesty International. 2006. 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. ^ History Television, series Fact and Film, episode "Lord of War"
  13. ^ "Director finds real guns cheaper than props". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. September 14, 2005. Retrieved October 15, 2011. 
  14. ^ Lord of War at Rotten Tomatoes
  15. ^ Lord of War at Metacritic
  16. ^ Lord of War at Box Office Mojo

External links[edit]