Dir. Andrew Niccol
This is a film I wanted to like more than I did. After The Constant Gardener, which unearthed the nefarious dealings of global pharmaceutical companies, why not a public-palpable expose on the international arms trade?
Except, the script comes at the character two different ways. There’s what Yuri (Nicolas Cage) knows and what director-writer Andrew Niccol wants us to know. Or more precisely, what Niccol wants to hide from us until the end for dramatic impact.
If it had just stuck to the former, the film would have been a nicely cynical piece. But by dabbling in the latter, it gets very preachy, especially near the end. It sets up Yuri as a dealer with a conscience, and wants us to believe that it’s only when he sees that his weapons kill innocent women and children that he has a change of heart. And this occurs in Liberia during a dark-night-of-the-soul sequence. But what of the the Bosnian war? Weren’t its atrocities enough to turn the stomach?
In fact, there’s a lot wrong here: Jared Leto’s “loose cannon” brother who is brought back in for the final act in a very manipulative way. Ian Holm’s barely developed rival dealer. The dirt-awful use of rock songs on the soundtrack (shot of cocaine is scored with Clapton’s “Cocaine”; Portishead’s “Glory Box” used when Yuri walks in on two hookers). Telegraphed events for the plebs, such as a boobytrapped car that we just know will blow up, and a dictator’s lackey who we just know will get casually shot a few seconds later.
What saves the film is Yuri’s voiceover narration. In fact this is so much better than what transpires onscreen that it seemed like two different writers. I don’t know if Cage is very convincing as a ruthless capitalist, but he seems to be having fun.
Now, I don’t think that I’m spoiling too much to say that when Yuri is finally caught at the end, he is let off from much higher ups in the US military (after all, he sometimes works for them). But why is this info kept from us until the end? If this had been the arresting agent’s story, then this would have worked as a cynical twist to a traditional crime narrative. But if Yuri is our guide into this underworld, shouldn’t we know this already?