There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That’s one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: how do we arm the other eleven?
This film is the story of Yuri Orlov, gunrunner extraordinaire; he’s played by Nicolas Cage, a natural choice for a character named Yuri Orlov. The film is a troubled one with some serious problems, but also some serious strengths. Cage is actually very good here. This movie is still a year on the good side of The Wicker Man and Cage is genuinely invested in his role here and he plays it mostly serious and straight. There are moments here and there when the wild-man kind of peeks out, but really this performance is all the more interesting given the last ten years of Cage’s career for its quiet, adult nature. Ethan Hawke is quite good in a small supporting role as an idealistic ATF agent on Orlov’s trail. The two actors only have two substantial scenes together in the film and they’re both among the best in the film, particularly the first. Bridget Moynahan, and I don’t think I’ve ever said these words, is quite good as Orlov’s lover ultimately wife; her last couple of scenes in the movie are really dark and probably the best in the film. The film works best when it is a story about these characters and not a preachy moralistic tale. When the film is focusing on the dissolution of Orlov’s marriage, it’s genuinely painful and real. And the film’s conclusion really is quite brilliant in terms of where it takes Orlov as a character and the hellish reality he leaves him in. It’s quite dark and bracing, while also feeling incredibly real and cynical. But the problems are substantial. Jared Leto is Cage’s younger brother, an on-again, off-again cocaine addict and the longer the film goes on the less sense he makes as a character. Leto’s pretty bad, but the script eventually has him acting ludicrously erratic, based entirely on the screenwriter’s convenience. It’s an annoying performance and a really bad character. Ian Holm is unfortunately wasted in what amounts to nothing but an extended cameo as a rival arms dealer. And the film often attempts to get a bit too preachy and moralistic. There’s no real reason to underline the moral issues of this issue; we get it and it comes across perfectly well in the story and the characters. The film is at its best when it allows Orlov to speak his own morality and lets the audience see the odious nature of it but it wants to make extra sure we get the message, so that usually isn’t quite enough for the movie. When Cage says things like, “I prefer the people who buy my guns fire and miss,” it’s a great, character-based, morally challenging moment that’s far superior to any lecture the film might (and does) trot out. And I really cannot even think about the fact that there’s a high level government operative here named General Oliver Southern without rolling my eyes. That’s the level of subtlety the film brings to its preachy parts. And it’s over two hours which is simply too long. The first third of the movie especially could use substantial tightening up. It’s a movie with its heart in the right place and there are moments when you see the great movie it could have been, but it unfortunately hobbles itself well short of greatness. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – a quite good central performance from Cage and genuinely cynical convictions elevate this film, but a sloppy script, some bad performances and an overly preachy tone hobble it. 2 ½ stars.