© 2006 Ray wong
The Wachowski brothers have long had a love affair with graphic novels and their characters. Like their Matrix trilogy and based on Allan Moore’s graphic novel, V for Vendetta is also a cautionary parable of an Orwellian world that is both frightening and fascinating.
The year is 2020 and WWIII has come and gone. America has been reduced to a wasteland, and a group of insurgents in Britain has risen up, taken over, and started a new and “better” government with a new Chancellor, Sutler (Hurt) and his right-hand man Creedy (Pigott-Smith). In this totalitarian country, citizens are under severe surveillance, curfew and strict laws. The government is corrupt beyond reproach. The people fear the government, and they become apathetic over time, existing merely for the sake of being “protected” from the horror of “wars.”
Timid and mild-mannered Evey (Portman) works for the government-run broadcast system, which often twists the facts and lies to portray the government in specific, positive light. One night, Evey’s saved from being raped by corrupt cops, by a mysterious man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask who calls himself “V,” for Vendetta. Even though she doesn’t believe in the terrorist tactics and violence, V stirs something deep inside Evey, and she reluctantly becomes his protégé and ally. In the course of one year, V diligently plans to make a statement by blowing up the Parliament, while eluding the pursuit led by police chief Finch (Rhea) and his assistant (Graves).
Portman (Closer) is wonderful as Evey, a woman with a past who slowly awakens to her purpose and destiny. She shows great vulnerability as well as resolution. Her transformation is riveting and she gives a solid, affecting performance. Weaving (Little Fish) has an imposing presence and a soft-spoken voice; however, acting mostly in costumes and behind masks, Weaving never gets to show his real acting chops. He and Portman do share some wonderful screen time together, and the romance between their characters have a creepy, erotic feel to it.
Hurt (The Skeleton Key) has nothing to do but act mad and nasty as Chancellor Sutler. Pigott-Smith (Alexendar) is equally snide and slimy with only a few expressions to spare. Rhea (Tara Road) does a better job as the sympathetic chief, and Graves (Rag Tale) is amiable as his assistant, Dominic. Allam (A Cock and Bull Story) has a great time playing the Rush Limbaugh-like character, Porthero. Fry (A Cock and Bull Story) is wonderful as Evey’s boss and TV celebrity Deitrich, who has a few costly secrets of his own.
First-time director (and the Wachowskis’ protégé) McTeigue (Matrix Revolutions – assistant director) gives us a unique vision that is obviously dictated by the original material. His pacing is often good, and the 132 minutes zip past quickly with lots of action, explosions, and sweeping narrative. The production is neither groundbreaking nor boring.
The script by the Wachowski brothers (Matrix) follows the original graphic novel by Moore (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) closely. The brothers always have a flair for highly philosophical and political fantasies, and V for Vendetta fits them perfectly. I find the political messages rather abrasive and obvious, but also relevant and timely. One doesn’t have to look deep to see references to our current affairs. The writers also pose some interesting and potentially controversial questions: Is terrorism necessary during desperate times? Is vengeance by ways of violence right or wrong toward certain ideologies, no matter how noble? What does it take to make people step out of their apathy and start thinking and acting?
The story itself gets a little convoluted in the middle, with a lot of back stories and revelations of who the characters are and how they came to be, through a lot of telling instead of showing. The revelations, I believe, slow down the film. The actual plot is actually rather thin. The story also shows shadows of others, including Batman, Twelve Monkeys, Brazil, Bladerunner, etc.; and the relationship between V and Evey screams Phantom of the Opera. The dialogue is often overwrought and poetic, exactly the kind that would make this film a cult classic. With that in mind, I give it a C, for Cult.
Stars: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rhea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Roger Allam
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Andy and Larry Wachowski (based on graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Llyod)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: R for language and violence
Running Time: 132 minutes
Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 7
Production – 8
Total – 7.1 out of 10