Based on actual events, this black comedy/drama stars Nicholas Cage as international arms smuggler Uri Orlov. The story follows Uri from his humble beginnings as a Soviet immigrant in 1970s Brooklyn and peaks with his involvement in selling off the stockpiled arsenal of post-Cold War Ukraine to--among other top clients--the sadistic African dictator André Baptiste, Sr. (Eamonn Walker). Jared Leto costars as Uri’s little brother Vitaly, whose conscience and a burgeoning cocaine problem get in the way of business. Ethan Hawke is good as a sanctimonious Interpol agent with a vendetta against Uri, but the film's biggest dose of onscreen gravitas comes from Walker, whose Baptiste seethes with a heavy, serpent-like malevolence.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, the film makes fine use of the brisk stream-of-consciousness narration style that Martin Scorcese brought to the true crime genre with GOODFELLAS (1992), and a near constant flow of action and classic rock songs that ensure a speedy, riveting ride through three decades of global carnage. Cage, who coproduced, lets his patented oddball magnetism slowly change polarity, until viewers realize they’ve been led into a moral quagmire by falling for his self-delusory spiels about supply and demand, making this one of the bravest and most jet-black comedies of its decade.
The film encapsulates the life of illegal global firearms (including soviet choppers and tanks) dealing by Uri Orlov (Cage), his exploitation of legal loopholes, and the aspects of the illegal trade even to a political level. It does so perfectly right from the introduction as you follow the life of a...bullet in first-person view, from copper plates in the factory of ambiguous nation, into the crate, into the Soviet Union, into an unsettled African nation, into the magazine of an AK-47 assault rifle, into the barrel chamber, and eventually flying into the head of an "militant" African kid with a sadistic splat sound and quickly followed by blackout to end the prelude to the film.
Uri forms the most unusual of friendships with some of the most dangerous dictators in the world, going by a first-name basis even. But the best quote or moment with a client has got to be between Uri and the Liberian dictator, Andre Baptiste, and his take on American culture.
[Uri is sat across the dictator's desk, surrounded by guards, giving the usual salesman pitch while Andre casually opens and inspects the silver-plated Magnum. He notices one of his young guards busily flirting with a girl nearby. He fumbles with the Magnum a bit more before loading a bullet, aims and shoots the young guard dead.]
Uri: "Why did you do that?!?"
Dictator [aims at Uri]: "What did you say?"
Uri [short pause]: "Now you're going to have to buy it. It's a used gun. How can I sell a used gun?"
[snatches gun from Dictator and begins cleaning it]
Dictator: "Ha...a used gun. A used gun! That's a good one." [laughs more as tension in the room dies.]
"You know, there is no dicipline with the youth today. I try to set an example (looks at dead guard being dragged away), but it is difficult eh? Personally I blame MTV."