When Andrew Niccol best known as the writer-director of Gattaca and writer of The Truman Show first tried to enlist Nicolas Cage to star in his latest project, he wrapped up his pitch with a bang. ''At the end,'' Cage remembers, ''he picked up a plastic Uzi and said, 'Are you going to make the movie or not?''' A little overdramatic, maybe, but then again, Lord of War is all about men with guns. Cage plays Yuri Orlov, a charming but morally vacant Ukrainian immigrant who, with the help of his unstable brother (Jared Leto), goes from small-time street hustler to big-time global arms dealer; Ethan Hawke costars as an Interpol agent obsessed with bringing him down.
Niccol could have used that fake Uzi when it came time to pitch the movie around Hollywood: With the Iraq war about to begin, no studio was eager to take on a troubling, fact-based thriller about gunrunning that, in the end, draws some troubling conclusions about the American military's role in the trafficking of weapons to rogue dictators around the world. ''The script made a lot of people uncomfortable,'' says Cage. ''But I think anything worth doing is going to make you a little uncomfortable.'' Undeterred, Niccol pieced together financing from various independent sources and shot the politically murky film he'd set out to make. ''I'm not sure anyone is necessarily going to go away from this whistling,'' he says, ''but it's the truth.''