Nicolas Cage Fares Well With Arms

Columbus Alive | September 15, 2005
Everyone has his limits, some just extend a lot farther than others. It takes most of the two-hour running time to find what moves Nicolas Cage’s arms dealer in writer/director Andrew Niccol’s (Gattaca, Simone) fast-paced, blood-spattered take on the global weapons market.

Cage, playing a part that seems tailored to his manic energy and flair for the sardonic, is Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian émigré raised in Brighton Beach’s Little Odessa neighborhood. He begins his ongoing voiceover by breaking the fourth wall with news that there’s one firearm for every 12 people on Earth, and, “The only question is, how do we arm the other 11?” Niccol responds with the year’s most impressive title sequence, following a bullet’s perspective from its creation in the factory to its end in the skull of a child.

Yuri finds his calling after witnessing a mob hit, seeing the spent bullet casing as a business opportunity. He builds his reputation by selling to anyone, regardless of politics, and through a windfall of merchandise brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union and a drunken uncle in the Ukrainian army.

More selective about his clientele, but also more ruthless, is Yuri’s competitor, Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm). As Weisz tries to cut off Yuri’s supply, Interpol agent Jack Valentine (a very TV-cop Ethan Hawke) goes after the man himself. But Yuri is more deeply troubled by his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto), who turns to cocaine after a brief, ugly stint as Yuri’s partner; by his attempts to maintain a front of legitimacy and wealth for his model wife Ava (Bridget Moynahan); and, finally, by his conscience.

The film claims to be “based on actual events” and Cage’s character is reportedly a composite of five real arms dealers. In cobbling together their stories, the filmmaker has fashioned something that bears a striking resemblance to GoodFellas, with its fleet, slick execution, its parade of colorful characters, particularly Eamonn Walker’s cold-blooded African dictator, and its central character who rises strong and stumbles hard.

By clinging to fact, Niccol aims for credibility, but it’s a loose hold. He grips tighter to predictable biopic formula. Fresh, explosive subject matter like this would be better served by an approach that sustains a sense of innovation beyond the opening credits.

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