Monday, October 03, 2005

Yuri Undershaft

There can be no doubt that "Major Barbara" (George Bernard Shaw) lies as the literary precursor to Nicholas Cage's newest movie "Lord of War." Intellectually, they are really talking about the same thing: how can you sell that which you cannot morally defend? In the proximity to the question, Lord of War puts us on the front-lines of African massacres-- Yuri Orlof (Cage) is given full knowledge of what lies ahead for the weapons he peddles while Andrew Undershaft can only dream. Oren also pointed out to me that, for at least part of the movie, you want to be Yuri. He has money, power, and family all thanks to his nefarious business. But there is where the movie peaks.

After seeing Major Barbara this summer at Shaw Festival (greatest show on earth!) I was really excited to see a modern day equivalent. Needless to say Shaw is unique. Shaw creates a villain so perfect, so idyllic that all slander is forcibly syphenned off to the side. He never drinks, cheats or gambles. The antagonist is polite, courteous and a generous philanthropist. As a result of Understaft's clean record, all eyes are perched glaring at his one flaw-- he sells guns. Because Shaw is so funny, the villan always wins. By the end of the play Undershaft convinces Adolfus to join his factory, and all the other characters are shown to be more or less buffoons. The play causes you to completely rethink your moral reservations with the subject matter or only at the very end does it give you some hope that your intuitions are not completely in err.

Yuri has none of these graces. He is self absorbed (which is only accentuated by Cage's boring monologue throughout the movie) and not a very nice person. He cheats, never sees his family, does hard drugs and loses control of himself from time to time. In light of all these offences he does not come across as a moral purist. The supporting characters are weak and supply no counter-balance to Yuri. Even the Interpol investigator comes off looking like a stupid attack dog lacking the refinement to parry Yuri's rather weak blows.

It is hard to compete with Shaw's whit and brilliance, but Lord of War comes no where close.

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