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Monday, September 06, 2010

Lord of War - fact-based fiction comes to life

A few weeks back my DH and I watched Lord of War.

If I'd had my way, we wouldn't have. But I'm glad we did.

It starts out a bit slow, and being chronically short on patience, I was ready to ditch it after a few minutes. My DH insisted I give it a chance so, just to get along, I did. Good thing, too. What a powerful movie!

Based (loosely) on real life characters, it's a real indictment of the arms trade. The acting is great. (It stars Nicholas Cage, after all!) And the story is gripping. So I found it a very memorable movie.

Nonetheless, I had immediate doubts about the accuracy of the Ukrainian references.

The protagonist is based on notorious gun-runner Viktor Bout. Nothwithstanding that the movie is of course fictional, to my mind it's nonetheless highly unlikely that a Ukrainian from the Crimea who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s or 80s would self-identify as a patriotic Ukrainian ... and at that, one who was ecstatic about what happened in 1991. (In real life, the Crimea is dominated by Russians hell-bent on returning the area to Mother Russia.)

It's also doubtful that a senior officer in the Soviet army who, after the Soviet Union collapsed, would later have access to stockpiled arms, would have been a patriotic ethnic Ukrainian ... especially since, according to Wikipedia, the uncle’s character is based on a real-life person, Oleg Orlov, who died in a Kyiv prison in 2007 while under investigation for smuggling arms to Iran.

I suppose these fictitious stretches make for a good story. But I dunno. I think it would have been a better story had it been closer to reality. Would you agree?

In a real-life twist, shortly after I saw the movie, a friend who is an expert on Ukrainian politics and current affairs, sent an email saying that Viktor Bout was being extradited to the USA. As an arms supplier to terrorists including Al Qaida, he may be implicated in 9/11.

There is some scuttlebutt that a deputy in Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada (parliament) ,Yuriy Bout, may be his brother. Yurij became a deputy after switching citizenship from Russian to Ukrainian and receiving his Ukrainian passport on the day before Gen. Yurij Kravchenko's two-bullets-to-the-head "suicide."

There's not a lot of information about Yurij Bout that I could find, at least not in English. As for Viktor Bout, given his arrest there will likely be follow up stories in the mainstream media similar to this and this and this.

In the meantime, despite the less-than-credible Ukrainian characterizations, I think it's still a movie worth watching (or watching again).

If you've seen it, I'd love to get your take on it.

If you haven't yet seen it, you can get the DVD at Amazon.

Here's the movie trailer.


Ukrainian Canadian said...

Also worth nothing is the name choice of Nicholas Cage's character Yuri Orlov: in real life, a Soviet dissident, victim of Stalin, sent to the Gulags and ultimately deported for his human rights activism in the USSR. While in the movie the same name is tied to drugs and destruction. Coincidence?

Pawlina said...

Good point Andrew. Actually now that you mention it, I recall thinking that it was a curious choice of name for the Nicholas Cage character.

On the one hand, the film is an indictment of the arms trade in the soviet and post-soviet eras. Yet the choice of name creates confusion, which only serves to obfuscate Russia's past human rights violations.

Makes you wonder whose agenda this film is advancing, doesn't it.

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