Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Movie Review: V For Vendetta

(image curtesy of

At what point does one man’s terrorist become another man’s freedom fighter?

This is the question that “V for Vendetta” ask of it’s audience as we spend 131 minutes watching the film. Filled to the brim with thought provoking exchanges, “V for Vendetta” is definitely not a movie for the action junkies as they would sorely be disappointed with the spares action sequences that it offers. What is offered instead is an intelligent discourse on the state of the world today albeit in an allegory form of a world gone horribly wrong all because of good intentions gone awry.

Adapted from the popular graphic novel of the same name written by Alan Moore and his illustrator-collaborator David Lloyd, “V for Vendetta” tells the story of the anarchist named V who is struggling against the government of a fascist theocratic police-state that the United Kingdom becomes in an imagined near future. V (Hugo Weaving), wearing the fixed visage of a Guy Fawkes mask, bursts into the scene by blowing up a London landmark to the tune of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture in plain view of a witness, Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), who he saves earlier in the evening from a group of degenerate secret police squad.

Evey is not really sure what to make of this strange fellow who had rescued her from her fate. V was clearly intelligent and very much convincing in his convictions that the people of the land had crossed the line too far by empowering the oppressive government to further curtail their individual liberties all in the name of public safety. Her fate would later become unavoidably linked to V once again when she helps V to gain command of a broadcasting station to broadcast his manifesto and call the population to witness his destruction of the Parliament on the eve of the next Guy Fawkes Night (Nov 5th).

As Evey begins to try to understand her savior, V is also being pursued by Det. Finch (Stephen Rea) whose investigation into the anarchist begins to unravel the backstory of his quarry. Finch realizes that V’s origin was very closely linked to high profile members of the establishment ruling the country all the way up to the supreme leader of this totalitarian regime, High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). With each piece of new information both Finch and Evey discovers about V, the more doubt gets cast over the motivation that is driving this enigmatic person to rebel against the authorities.

As V’s actions to overthrow the establishment becomes increasingly distasteful to her, Evey attempts to leave V only to find herself eventually captured and tortured for information pertaining to the location of V. Det. Finch is also struggling with the revelations that he is uncovering in his investigations of who V was as the people of this dystopian future begins to raise to V’s challenge that they change their current situation. Everything comes to a climatic ending when V’s promise to blow up the Parliament comes to pass but not without a heavy price to the major players in this story. In their own way, they all had to pay something in exchange for their new future that V had promised will be ahead of them.

The adaptation of the original graphic novel to screenplay was done by Andy and Larry Wachowski, the director-creators of the Matrix movie trilogy, and was not without it’s share of controversy. In adapting this story to the screen, the Wachowski brothers had to veer away from the original material in several aspect which resulted in the original writer of the story publicly disowning this adaptation. Alan Moore refused to have his name credited to this adaptation of his seminal work on the basis that it was not what he had in mind when he wrote the piece and the Wachowski brother will have to credit it to David Lloyd instead. While the adaptation differs from the original text in many points, the Wachowski brothers have made the point to make sure that it was true to the spirit of the original work. Most of the iconic figures and storyline still exist in this adapted work in their near original forms which, while may not please the purists, would be sufficient to convey the story of “V for Vendetta”.

The thing that struck me the most about this adaptation is how politically aware this movie is. The movie raises a lot of issues that we are struggling in these dark days where someone like V is not view in a good light. The movie doesn’t hold itself back from commenting that the issues of terrorism and the state’s reaction to terror acts are never in the absolutes relative to the views of all the parties involved. As an allegory to the way the world is structured now, “V for Vendetta” allows the audience to view through a dark mirror of an imagined future and wonder how little it would take in the real world for us to end up in a similar situation. While the questions that it raises might be distasteful for some, it was refreshing to see it tackled in a in a mainstream film feature.

Hugo Weaving gives a sterling performance as the scarred and tormented V despite the handicap of not able to rely on facial expressions that other actors take for granted being able to do in their performances. He uses his natural physical agility instead to successfully imbue the masked V with layers of meaning through the use of body language that lesser actor would not be able to pull off. Natalie Portman is equally good in this movie opposite Weaving even with the noticeable slip-ups with her British accent. With this film, she joins Sigourney Weaver and Demi Moore as women who can pull off looking really sexy bald. John Hurt, Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry round out the wonderful performances of this outstanding cast.

“V for Vendetta” is definitely a refreshing change in that it is an intelligent blockbuster instead of the more common mindless popcorn action fare. It has a fairly political message that it wants to deliver and it is not afraid to lay it out irregardless of how it may be received. Audiences will definitely leave the theater thinking about the issues raised in the movie that they just watched. Add to that a brisk piece of storytelling tightly plotted from the very first frame to the very last credit, this movie is one of the must see movies of 2006 irregardless of your politics.

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