I initially dismissed Lord of War when the trailers and posters first appeared. In other words, it got caught in the crude mental filters that routinely handle my first-pass “ignore” of all the crap that flows through my eyes and ears all day every day. But when my regular email newsletter from Amnesty International endorsed the film, it seemed possible this was something more substantial than National Treasure.
And it is. In an impressive marketing slight-of-hand, Lions Gate marketed it as an action comedy. But like Syriana, Lord of War is actually a very strongly-felt topical film loosely based on actual events. It has a more human and darkly comedic tone than Syriana, which often felt like a very consciously-constructed intellectual puzzle. But on the other hand, Syriana’s strict focus is perhaps a virtue; Lord of War’s several dramatic plotlines involving the main character’s marriage and wayward brother don’t always sit very well against the larger themes of entrenched human violence.
For another Nicolas Cage treasure hidden in plain sight, I recommend Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men.
Ugh. I should have listened to the myriad critics and friends who warned me off this one… it is indeed quite bad. Everything you’ve heard is true: impossibly long, unintelligibly edited (can anyone explain to me Alexander’s supposedly brilliant scheme in the first battle? Running away and coming back will allow greater access to strike the enemy king exactly how?), and schizophrenic with regards to its sexual politics. So Alexander was bisexual, fine. But in this day and age, doing anything to avoid showing an onscreen kiss just calls attention to itself. Two pretty men gazing at each other and saying things like “By Zeus’ beard, you are indeed a great man” is just comical.
And most amusingly: if accents are to be judged, Angelina Jolie’s character hails from Transylvania, and Alexander and his father came to Greece by way of down the pub. In fact, the kid who plays the young Alexander sounds more Irish than Colin Farrel himself!
I rented the director’s cut, which bucks the trend in actually being shorter than the theatrical version (the only other director I know of to do this is Stanley Kubrick, who would often continue to abridge films even during release). At 3 hours, 55 minutes, I am quite glad I didn’t decide to go with the theatrical version.
What was good about it? Angelina Jolie is always a pleasure to watch – an old-school movie star in the sense that her presence and beauty are so overpowering that she might as well be from another planet. I’ve always thought Val Kilmer was a fine actor (especially in the underrated Spartan). And in a suprisingly plain-looking movie for Stone, it’s a great relief when he finally cuts loose in the surreal, literally blood-soaked sequence of Alexander’s near-fatal wounding in India.