The Notorious Mr Bout, film review: Fascinating documentary makes us feel sympathy for "merchant of death"

(12A) Tony Gerber, Maxim Pozdorovkin, 91 mins
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If we are to believe the fictionalised representation of him in Lord of War, in which he is played by Nic Cage, Viktor Bout is a charismatic arms dealer with a taste for the high life.

The Bout shown in this fascinating documentary, which uses large amounts of its subject's home-video footage, is a more down-to-earth, complex figure. He is a ruddy-faced, moustached Russian businessman with a hint of Mr Magoo about him, who looks as if he could have stepped out of a Gogol novel.

A former airforce officer, Bout became rich in the lawless, post-Soviet era by transporting cargo throughout the world. Some of that cargo was weaponry and he wasn't discriminating about how his clients used it.

Nonetheless, you can't help but feel sympathy for "the merchant of death" as he languishes in jail after being caught out in a US sting operation. It's a bit rich to finger him as the "personification of evil" when the arms trade seems to have continued without interruption during his enforced absence. As the documentary makes clear, those accusing him of misdeeds don't exactly have clean hands themselves.