Great guns: War 'lord' the ultimate antihero

It's not to be confused with any other "Lord of..." movies, but Lord of War runs rings around most of the competition at the multiplex.

The movie Lord of War is most likely to be confused with, and to appeal to fans of, is Three Kings. They share a darkly comic cynical worldview and a perspective that's ultimately life-affirming but requires a lot of death to get there.

Writer-director Andrew Niccol looks at arms trafficking with the same jaundiced eye he focused on another "necessary evil," technology, in the under-appreciated S1m0ne.

Our guide for a 20-year journey is Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage, tolerably reined in), whose family emigrated from big Odessa in the Ukraine to Little Odessa in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where they opened a restaurant. Yuri works there until he finds his calling in 1982 when he witnesses a Russian Mafia hit and realizes he can make more money "fulfilling another basic human need" and starts selling guns.

Business takes off in 1984 when the U.S. leaves a lot of weapons behind in Lebanon and Yuri is able to buy them for a song– and a little soft shoe. That's the beginning of a career of buying war surplus and reselling it to furnish new wars.

"I supplied every army but the Salvation Army," he boasts; but "I never sold to Osama bin Laden. But not because of any moral grounds– back then he was always bouncing checks."

The money that rolls in allows Yuri's little brother Vitaly (Jared Leto, grungy but not hiding his good looks for a change) to indulge his addictions, so he spends more time in rehab than by Yuri's side.

Also enjoying the spoils is Ava (Bridget Moynahan), the supermodel Yuri says he worshipped since he was ten years old. He arranges a meeting, woos her, and eventually marries her without telling her where their wealth is coming from.

"I won't ask a lot of questions," she says. "I don't want to hear you lie." As Yuri puts it later, "She doesn't have to know. She understands."

Business takes Yuri from Berlin to Beirut and Cartagena to Odessa, but one of his best customers is Andre Baptiste (Eamonn Walker), a dictator in Liberia who gifts him with "a young Iman and a young Naomi." Yuri resists because they're in "the most AIDS-infected region of the world."

Yuri's chief competitor is Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm), who insults him when he's starting out by telling him, "This is no place for amateurs." His principal nemesis is straight-arrow Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), who pursues him but can never make a case against him.

Probably Yuri's best seller is the AK-47, "the real weapon of mass destruction" and "the number-one Soviet export since the cold war ended."

The filmmaker does a little showing off at the beginning to get your attention, with a credit sequence that shows a bullet being manufactured, shipped, delivered, loaded, and finding its last resting place in the skull of an African youth. From then on, Niccol relaxes and just tells his story, so anyone who sees it can never relax again.

With the attitude, "You're not a true internationalist until you've sold arms to kill your own countrymen," Yuri Orlov is an antihero for our time, and maybe for all time.