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Lord of War

Year: 2006
Director: Andrew Niccol
Writer: Andrew Niccol
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Bridget Moynahan, Jared Leto, Ethan Hawke, Ian Holm
The best films are those where the filmmaker can tell you something as well as showing you. Most films are either the CG flash and pizzazz of this year's action blockbuster (usually a lot like last year's action blockbuster), or a skewed history lesson delivered with a moral jackhammer.

One of the world's great underrated directors (now that other Kiwi is getting all the press), Niccol has something clear to say but he's not afraid to be an entertainer, thrill us with drama and - bizarrely and unexpectedly - make us laugh.

Cage is shiftily sardonic as Yuri Orlov, a Ukrainian immigrant who grows up in an urban American wasteland, stumbles upon gun running by providence and becomes the world's premier arms dealer, selling to whatever bloodthirsty dictator agrees to his price and washing his hands of responsibility in brilliant self-justification.

But like Scarface's Tony Montana, Yuri realises the bigger you are, the more your enemies want you out, and besides the murderous despots Yuri does business with, he's got a rival broker (Holm) and a federal agent (Hawke) hot on his tail most of the time.

Seeing Niccol skilfully wave themes of politics, commerce, guilt and responsibility through a story that's also fun and fascinating to watch is almost reward enough to see Lord of War, and he achieves what few of the biggest directors of today manage in telling you Yuri's story; he'll have you thinking about it long after you leave the cinema.

So incendiary no American studio or investor would touch it, it's as much an essential study of modern socio-politics as it is a good night out.

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