NOTE: This Spoiler was sent in by Taller94who says he"...found it to be a well-made, thought-provoking and entertaining piece of cinema. A few flaws here and there, but the message came through and the characters all had nice moral arcs."
The film opens with Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) standing before about 5,000 bullets lying on the ground. He turns to the camera and notes that there are 550 million firearms on the planet, meaning that one out of every twelve people own a firearm. The question is, who's supplying the other eleven? We then cut to the credit sequence, where, in an intriguing yet disturbing scene, we follow the birth of a single bullet, from creation, to mass production, to shipment throughout the world, to the chamber of an assault rifle, and finally, into the head of a young African boy. It then cuts back to Yuri, who narrates that his family are Ukrainian immigrants, and that in order to safely cross into America and move to Brighton Beacj, the Orlovs had to pretend they were Jewish. Yuri's father plays it up the most, even attending temple and refusing to eat shellfish, actually convinced he is Jewish, despite never being converted. His family runs a small restaurant, and Yuri, along with his brother Vitali (Jared Leto), help out with the family business but both strive for something bigger. Then one day, while strolling into a Little Odessa restaurant, Yuri witnesses a failed gang assassination, which ends with several dead men. Yuri then realizes that true money can be made with selling guns. He contacts a neighborhood thug, and is soon in business. His first sales involve Uzis placed in camcorder cases because, as Yuri explains, home video equipment was large and clunky in the early 80s. Vitali eventually comes aboard, and the two set-up shop, traveling around the world and selling to anyone and everyone with the means necessary. Yuri notes that he never sold to Osama bin Laden, not out of loyalty but rather because his checks tended to bounce.
Yuri and Vitali attend a conference for very large arms dealers and meet Simeon Qeisz (Ian Holm), one of the top men in the game. Yuri introduces himself, but Weisz is none to impressed, basically snubbing Yuri, and stating that they are not the same, since Weisz "takes sides," meaning he has morals and won't sell to the bad guy, which Yuri will do without batting an eye. Yuri's philosophy through the whole process is to stay out of the personal business, since his only job is to supply the product, not care about the cause. Vitali, on the other hand, begins to have a crisis of conscience. After a completing a successful deal in Beirut, the brothers witness a massacre, where the victims are young children, made to stand before a wall and be shot to death individually. Vitali wants to save the boys, but Yuri reminds him "it's not our fight," and both brothers leave. Later, while selling to some Central American crook, Yuri and the crook get into an argument, with Yuri being accidentally shot. The deal goes through, and en route back to the airport, with Yuri bleeding from his wound, he and Vitali do some blow to celebrate. It is also on this journey that Yuri first runs afoul of Interpol agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), who boards their ship and finds nothing but potatoes hidden away in the crates (The guns are under the potatoes). Valentine has nothing on Yuri and lets him go but promises that they will meet again. Eventually, Vitali's hold on the whole situation spirals out of control, and Yuri eventually travels to some South American country to save his younger brother, after Vitali goes on a coke-and-prostitute binge. They return to America, and Yuri forces Vitali into rehab, and even gives his brother one more bump before walking through the doors to get clean.
Around this time, Yuri grows increasingly drawn to Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan), a young model who grew up in the same neighborhood as Yuri but the two never met. Yuri devises a scheme where he rents out an entire hotel in St. Barts and sends Ava a fake modeling job offer. Ava shows up to the hotel and wanders around for a few days, before Yuri introduces himself and pretends the two meet by accident. Eventually, he persuades her to ride home on "his" plane, which is nothing more than a general chartered plane with his last name painted on at the last second. (In fact, the paint is so wet that it runs off as the plane takes off) Ava, however, suspects nothing, and even admits that her and Yuri's encounter must have been "fate." The two eventually marry, have a son, and move into a cozy apartment overlooking Central Park. Then, one day, the best news Yuri could ever hear occurs: the Soviet Union falls, meaning the Eastern Bloc will be dismantled. Yuri rushes back to the Ukraine, and meets with Uncle Dmitri, a high-ranking officer in the Soviet army who is also family. His post has barracks full of unused assault rifles and other WMDs. Yuri buys them off Dmitri and ships them back to America. Once again, Valentine and his team show up, but Yuri quickly stashes all devastating evidence. He notes to Valentine that the reason he's getting away is because of a huge loophole in the trade embargo, and Valentine, a by-the-book man, reluctantly lets him go again. Once Yuri and Dmitri arrive back to America, Dmitri is approached by Weisz about buying the weapons, but Dmitri has loyalty to Yuri and refuses. Dmitri, however, pays for it later, when his new car blows up after being rigged with a bomb, intended for Yuri (I think, I had a bathroom break at this point and had to connect the dots according to the previous and current scenes).
Around this time, Yuri starts selling in West Africa, mainly Liberia. It is here that he meets the self-appointed dictator Andre Baptiste (Eamonn Walker), an American-educated madman. Upon their first meeting, Andre tests one of Yuri's guns by shooting a man to death in cold blood. Yuri must also contend with Andre, Jr., a hot-headed murderer who carries a gold-plated AK-47, and constantly requests the gun of "Rambo." Andre keeps Yuri in close contact, calling Yuri the "lord of war," which is his take on "warlord." He offers drugs, diamonds, whores (who are most likely infected with AIDS), and loads of cash, although Andre never pays full price and Yuri always agrees out of fear.
During a shipment to Liberia, Yuri's plane is intercepted by Valentine, riding in an F-16, who threatens to shoot Yuri down unless he lands at the nearby airport. Yuri complies but when Valentine flies ahead, he convinces his own pilots to land on a nearby highway, populated completely by pedestrians. The plane successfully touches down, after many close calls, and the pilots abandon the plane. With Valentine on his way, Yuri decides to open the back of the plane and unload the entire merchandise by giving it away to curious villagers. Eventually, all the weapons are gone, and Valentine finally arrives on the scene. He finds only one bullet, and informs Yuri that he can keep him there for 24 hours. Valentine places Yuri in cuffs and makes him sit there for an entire day. That night, with the help of some nifty time-lapse photography, Yuri watches as the entire plane is dismantled piece by piece by the Liberians. Valentine arrives back on the scene and once again must let Yuri go. Yuri returns to his hotel and finds both Andres, some guards, and Weisz tied to a chair, muffled, slightly roughed up. Andre explains that Weisz was there to sell to the "other side" (Liberia is in the middle of a civil war), and Andre tells Yuri that he can take revenge for Dmitri's death. He holds a gun towards Weisz and puts Yuri's finger on the trigger. Andre explains that Yuri can end it anytime but the anguish consumes him and only says he wants it to end after Andre pulls the trigger himself and blows Weisz brains all over the back wall. That night, Yuri goes on a binge, snorting "brown and brown" (I think that's what it was called), which is cocaine mixed with gunpowder. Yuri starts wandering around Liberia, high as a kite, seeing visions of a dead Weisz, the back of his head missing. He even has sex with a prostitute and asks desperately if she has AIDS as she leaves.
During this time, Valentine has confronted Ava and tells her all about her husband. Ava, who had been kept in the dark the entire time,refuses to believe Valentine at first but confronts Yuri when he arrives back home. He finally confesses about his trade, and she asks him to leave it, since they have enough money and go legit. Yuri replies that he can't because he's so good at it. However, his wife's love prevails and Yuri goes clean for six months, which causes Valentine's surveillance to shut down completely.
One day, however, Yuri is visited by the Andres, who are in town for a UN peace summit. Andre requests his services, but Yuri insists he's legit. Andre refuses to believe it and sets up a deal a few days from then. The itch is too much to bear, so Yuri enlists the help of Vitali and they head to Liberia. As he leaves, Ava follows him, and stumbles upon Yuri's crate. Yuri leaves for the airport, and Ava breaks into the crate, and finds a huge cache of weapons and fake passports. Once they arrive, Andre informs them that the actual deal is in Sierra Leone, and that they must go with Andre, Jr. tagging along.
The deal is going well, before Vitali takes a walk around and stumbles upon a camp with hundreds of refugees, being held captive. He watches as a young boy and his mother attempt to flee and are butchered by a collection of men with machetes. Vitali's conscience comes over him and he pulls Yuri aside. He asks his brother to drop the deal and leave. He explains that once Yuri sells those guns, those people in the camp will be slaughtered. Yuri grows furious and reminds Vitali once again that they can't get involved in that world. Vitali finally agrees but while the deal is still commencing, he wanders to one of the convoy trucks and grabs two grenades. Andre, Jr. pulls a gun on him, but Yuri knocks him out with a crowbar. Vitali blows up one of the trucks, killing Andre, Jr. in the process, but while he runs to blow up the other truck, Vitali is shot down by Yuri's buyers. He dies just as he pulls the pin on the last grenade, but Yuri places the pin back in the grenade and stands over his dead brother.
Saddened, he returns to the deal, and is given only half due to losing one truck. Yuri ships his brother back to the States in a coffin, but when the corpse goes through the x-ray, a single bullet can be seen in the monitor, lodged in Vitali's chest. Yuri had paid a doctor to remove all evidence before leaving Africa, but that single bullet is enough for the ATF to arrest and detain him, long enough for Valentine to show up. Yuri tries to make a few calls, but finds no one: his parents, as well as Ava and their young son, have all forsaken him.
Valentine and Yuri sit in a detainment room as Yuri explains the concepts of what he does and defines himself as a "necessary evil." He also reminds Valentine that he will not serve any jail time, because he has contacts and they will get him out of everything. Eventually, the scene culminates with Yuri being released by his contact, and free to flee the country. Yuri continues selling under the pretense of legitimate goods, and remains undeterred morally.
The film ends as Yuri explains that the President himself ships more guns in one day than Yuri does in one year.
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