By Emmy Iyer(18 May 2011)
The movie begins with Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage) standing in a sea of spent shell casings. The rest of the movie is told in flashback, starting in 1982 and ending in the completion of the opening scene. The opening credits sequence shows a 7.62x39mm round being produced and going through various stages before getting fired from an AK-47 and travelling through the head of a child soldier during a war in Africa. The song played in the background of the opening credits sequence is "For What It's Worth" performed by Buffalo Springfield. Through voiceover, Orlov describe how he first became an arms dealer. Yuri and his family came to United States from Soviet Ukraine when he was a young boy. His family pretends to be Jewish for favorable immigration conditions to escape the Soviets. His family owns a restaurant, which Yuri sees as providing a necessity as people have to eat. After Yuri sees a Ukrainian Mafia boss kill two would-be assassins, he decides to provide another necessity: guns. He begins his career by selling Uzis. Yuri partners up with his brother Vitaly (Jared Leto). Before beginning his career, he approaches Simeon Weisz (Ian Holm), a seasoned arms dealer, at an arms convention in Berlin with a business proposal. Weisz turns him down, dismissing Yuri as an amateur. Yuri gets his first break selling M-16s after the 1982 Lebanon War and becomes "an equal opportunity merchant of death", selling guns to all sides. Yuri develops multiple identities (complete with appropriate paperwork and ID cards) and stores his records and paperwork in a metal security container. As he grows, Yuri (through voiceover) tells of his first incident with Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke), an Interpol agent who cannot be bought with money. Their first encounter is when Yuri is on the ship Kristol smuggling a shipment of weapons. When he learns that Valentine is after him, he changes the boat's name to Kono, and his first interaction plays out smoothly in Yuri's favor. During a business deal with a Colombian drug lord, Yuri is paid in cocaine instead of cash. He argues, but eventually accepts the payment after being shot. Vitaly and he both get high on cocaine, but Vitaly becomes addicted, and Yuri checks him into a rehabilitation center. From that point onward, he conducts his arms business alone. Shortly afterwards, he begins to court Ava Fontaine (Bridget Moynahan), a model. He books a photo shoot and the entire hotel so that they have the whole area to themselves. After impressing her, they marry, and later have a child named Nikolai. On the day that Nikolai begins to walk, the Soviet Union dissolves. Yuri rushes to Ukraine after watching Gorbachev's Christmas Day 1991 resignation speech on television. He contacts his uncle, Dmitri, a general of the former Soviet Army, and begins buying his tanks and AK-47s to expand his inventory, explaining in detail how the AK-47 is the most reliable assault rifle in the world. Weisz comes back and attempts to deal with both Yuri and Dimitri, but is rejected by both. Valentine attempts to stop Yuri again as he tries to ship off a Mil Mi-24; fortunately, a young Soviet Army mechanic is able to remove the weapons and because of a loophole in international law that does not classify either of them as weapons of war as long as they are shipped separately, Valentine is forced to let him go. Shortly afterwards, Weisz sets up a car bomb, and Dimitri is assassinated. Yuri moves on to selling arms to the West African dictator of Liberia, André Baptiste (Eamonn Walker), who pays in blood diamonds. After digging through his garbage, Valentine learns that Yuri will be making a cargo run to Sierra Leone. Valentine has fighter planes successfully intercept the plane in flight, but Yuri makes an emergency landing on a dirt road, and gives away all the guns to local villagers before Valentine can arrive and detain him. Valentine handcuffs and detains Yuri for 24 hours before being forced to release him. Yuri makes his way back to Monrovia, where Baptiste invites him to kill the captured Weisz, who simply states he came to Liberia to sell weapons to Baptiste's enemies. Yuri is reluctant, but does not tell Baptiste to stop pulling the trigger until he has done so and killed Weisz. Weisz later appears in a drug-induced hallucination and tells Yuri once again to "take sides". Valentine keeps Yuri under surveillance, and one day he reveals to his wife Ava that Yuri is a major weapons dealer. Ava pleads with Yuri to stop, and he does, instead choosing to exploit the resources of the third world nations. However, he dislikes the business, complaining that the profit margins are low and that there is too much competition compared to illegal arms. Yuri reenters the arms market when Baptiste approaches him. He is reluctant, but goes when Baptiste tells him that he will pay more than the usual rate. Yuri decides to bring Vitaly along because he is nervous about the current climate of Liberia; however, they later learn that the sale is actually taking place in Sierra Leone. During the transaction, however, Vitaly witnesses a group of villagers beating a mother and her child to death, and tells Yuri the entire village will be massacred if the deal comes through. He pleads with Yuri to stop the transaction, but Yuri says it's not their conflict. Vitaly responds by taking a grenade and blowing up a truck with half of the guns. A guard watching the transaction shoots Vitaly to death. Yuri still accepts the deal and all the villagers are then slaughtered. Yuri ships his brother's body back to the United States with him. He pays someone to remove the lead from Vitaly's body, but one bullet remains and he is stopped by customs. Meanwhile, while being followed by Jack Valentine, Ava finds Yuri's security container, which is definitive proof of Yuri's arms dealing. Ava takes their son and leaves him. When Yuri calls his parents, his mother says, "Both my sons are dead." Valentine detains Yuri and tells him that he has a long jail sentence ahead of him. However, Yuri reveals to Valentine that the very reasons that Yuri should be incarcerated for are also the same reasons that he'll walk free; his existence is a "necessary evil", as the people he supplies are often "the enemies of your enemies" (enemies of the U.S.) He goes on saying that sometimes the U.S. Government needs a "freelancer" like himself to supply those that they'd rather not be seen supplying. Yuri then predicts that a high-ranking officer will come, congratulate Valentine, and then order him to free Yuri because of his necessity. Surely enough, a high-ranking officer does indeed come, and Yuri is released. A free man again, he returns to selling arms. The movie ends by proclaiming on-screen that it is "based on actual events," and that while private arms dealing around the world flourishes, the U.S., the UK, France, Russia and China (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council)are the world's leading arms supplier.