Nicolas Cage immortalized him in the film Lord of War, and the media dubbed him “The Merchant of Death”, yet Viktor Bout does not see himself as a villain. In his eyes he is merely a misunderstood businessman. Using Bout’s 2008 arrest in Thailand as a jumping off point, The Notorious Mr. Bout delves into the life of one of the world’s most infamous arms dealers.
The film tracks Viktor Bout’s life from the late 80′s all the way up to his conviction in an American court in 2012. A former language expert for the Russian army, Bout found himself looking for work once the Soviet Union dissolved. His first venture was an import/export business that brought goods into Russia. He eventually moved onto purchasing decommissioned cargo planes and ships which, in turn, he leased to third world countries for exorbitant amounts. Mr. Bout soon discovered that many of those countries were in need of transporting large amounts of sensitive cargo (i.e. weapons and other illegal items).
Of course, Bout does not think he is donr anything wrong. He describes his fleet of cargo planes as being no different than a car rental service. Bout boldly questions whether car rental companies are held liable when someone who rents their vehicles commits a crime? His concern is the leasing of his fleet of planes, not what the customers transport on them.
The Notorious Mr. Bout does not take sides or show the protagonist involved in any of the arm sales or their strong arm tactics. Instead, directors Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdorovkin focus more on the man behind the scandal. Since Bout fancied himself a filmmaker of sorts, he filmed everything from his first meeting with his future wife, Alla, to the various countries where he setup shop. One of the prominent figures in Bout’s home movies is his daughter who we see go from a little girl traveling in first class to a woman by the time Bout’s trial rolls around.
Since the directors could not bring cameras into the prison, they found other ways to shape the story. They utilized prison correspondence, and voiceover narration to allow Viktor to tell his story. Gerber and Pozdorovkin also had over 200 hours of Bout’s home video footage at their disposal.
The Notorious Mr. Bout is a piece forged with the purpose of deconstructing a media driven image of individuals. To expose the way in which people like Bout are vilified in public, but ultimately benefit the financial bottom line of many countries including the U.S. and Russia. Countries profit greatly from the Arms Industry and individuals like Bout who find new homes for the old weapons no longer needed. The Notorious Mr. Bout does an excellent job in both delivering this point and providing a well-rounded look at one of the world’s most infamous figures.