IN the opening scene of Lord of War (Sunday, 8.30pm, M Thriller/Crime), a Russian arms dealer called Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) confronts the audience: There are 550 million firearms on this planet. That’s one for every 12 people. So the question is: how are we going to arm the other 11?’’ It’s not a bad joke, and it sets the tone of this impassioned denunciation of the international arms trade from writer-director Andrew Niccol. But is it quite the right tone? One-liners come thick and fast: I’m equalopportunity merchant of death — I’ve sold to every army except the Salvation Army.’’ All witty and cynical enough, but in a film inspired, as I took it, by a sense of rank despair — a corrosive anger at the corruption of the trade — even black humour seems out of place. Niccol wrote a bitingly intelligent script for The Truman Show and his good faith is not in doubt. But despite a compelling performance by Cage, Lord of War feels more like a satirical revue than an anguished depiction of greed and iniquity.
There are more memorable one-liners in Bright Young Things (Sunday, 8.30pm, M Comedy), a version of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies, directed by Stephen Fry. Waugh’s satire was set in 1929 in his imaginary district of Metroland, home of London’s idle-rich sophisticates and social climbers. Emily Mortimer plays Nina Blount, girlfriend of a gossip columnist and daughter of an eccentric tycoon (Peter O’Toole). Other vile bodies include politicians, press barons, a prime minister and an American lady evangelist. Waugh had great fun nailing upper-class English vapidity, and Fry has great fun filming with hand-held cameras. He whirls them around at a dizzying speed with little thought for the comfort of audiences, who are advised to close their eyes during the party scenes and concentrate on the dialogue.
As with Vile Bodies, the chief fascination of Curtis Hanson’s dazzlingly accomplished noir police thriller LA Confidential (Wednesday, 2.05pm, M Thriller/Crime) lies in its fidelity to a lost time and place. This is how James Ellroy celebrated 1950s Los Angeles in his novel, and this, you can bet, is how it was in those far-off days when men wore hats, TV was challenging the studio star system and Hollywood was still famous for its palm trees. The film is about corruption in the upper reaches of the LA Police Department. Loner cop Bud White (Russell Crowe) tangles with Guy Pearce’s sanctimonious Ed Exley, who has no hesitation testifying against his colleagues while clawing his way to the top. But the star is LA itself, lovingly re-created in all its sleaze and charm.
Which brings us to Hollywood Ending (Monday, 3.45pm, M Masterpiece), in which Woody Allen plays a hard-up director offered the chance of a comeback provided he can work with his ex (Tea Leoni) and the studio head (Treat Williams) who stole her from him. For Allen fans, I recommend Blue Jasmine in cinemas.
(M) ★★★ Sunday, 8.30pm, M Comedy
(MA15+) ★★★★✩ Wednesday, 2.05pm, M Thriller/Crime
(MA15+) ★★★ ✩ Sunday, 8.30pm, M Thriller/Crime
A scene from