Directed by Andrew Niccol, starring Nicolas Cage, Ethan Hawke, Bridget Moynahan, Jared Leto, Ian Holm and Sammi Rotibi.

The writer PJ O'Rourke once said that it was impossible to get decent Chinese takeaways in China and Cuban cigars were rationed in Cuba, and that was all anyone needed to know about Communism. But another thing that's worth knowing about Communism is that both its military might and subsequent demise in Europe in the late 1980s meant a bonanza for arms dealers around the world - in the Ukraine alone between 1982 and 1992 over $32bn in arms were stolen, with no-one ever brought to justice. And it's that ability to get away with, well, murder that drives 'Lord of War'.

Born in Ukraine, raised in New York, Yuri Orlov (Cage) realises the family restaurant business isn't for him and by chance discovers "a natural instinct for smuggling contraband" - and guns in particular. Having armed the local mobsters, Yuri decides to think global, travelling to the Berlin Arms Fair and then Beirut, with younger brother Vitaly (Leto) in tow. Supplying "every army except the Salvation Army", Yuri becomes the Top Man, marries his dream woman (Moynahan) and makes sure that his conscience is hidden away better than his millions. But as Yuri travels from war zone to war zone, he falls ever further.

With a CV that includes the scripts for 'Gattaca', 'The Truman Show' and 'S1m0ne', it seems a safe bet that writer-director Andrew Niccol won't be trying to get Steven Segal and Jean- Claude Van Damme in the same film anytime soon. And 'Lord of War' represents a brave, if ultimately disappointing attempt to highlight the contradictions and complicities of the global arms trade. The first hour is excellent: as Cage's character builds his empire, Niccol's script is witty, cutting and memorable, one hustle follows another and the 'fun' just never seems to end. It's often said that the more brazen a scam is the easier it is to get away with, and Niccol's film adds plenty of weight to that theory.

But if the loss of Yuri Orlov's soul is incremental, then so too is the diminishing power of this film. As the story becomes ever darker, it becomes less engrossing. Much of this has to do with Cage - the role of wheeler-dealer is well within his capabilities but he's just not convincing here on his way to the bottom. His encounters with Hawke's Interpol agent don't spark like they should; the relationship with his onscreen wife doesn't pack enough of an emotional punch and, bottom line, you really don't care about what happens to him.

It's a tribute to Niccol that he closes his film in the most miserable and thought-provoking way possible. He tells us that the five biggest arms suppliers in the world are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council: Britain, China, France, Russia and the US. How this film will play across the Atlantic is anyone's guess.

Harry Guerin