V for Vendetta (2005) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and some language
Running Time: 132 min.
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves
Director: James McTeigue
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Review published March 19, 2006
It's hard to divorce the terrorist themes of V for Vendetta from the post-9/11 climate under which we live, despite the fact that its source material, Alan Moore's acclaimed limited series comic book of the same name, was published originally twenty years before. Reportedly, the Wachowski Brothers are huge fans of the work, and of Alan Moore in general, and had adapted the screenplay before they worked on The Matrix. Despite most of the core ideas coming before 2001, it is clear from the finished work, the current state of affairs has altered the perception on the terrorist opus, and many allusions to 9/11 and recent politics have transformed the work into something of distinct relevance. This is a streamlined and updated adaptation of the Alan Moore/David Lloyd work, so don't expect a completely faithful adaptation. This is a forward thinking thriller that that should engage audiences on multiple levels.
The futuristic events of the film version necessitates pushing the timeline of the comic book from the late 1990s to the late 2010s, which sees Great Britain existing in a totalitarian state, while events in the United States and other parts of the world have left it a shambles. A young woman named Evey (Portman, Revenge of the Sith) is saved by a masked terrorist with enhanced intelligence and fighting skills, going by the enigmatic moniker of "V" (Weaving, The Return of the King), who has recently begun a crusade to destroy British landmarks every November 5th, in commemoration of Guy Fawkes. Evey soon returns the favor by saving V's life, but now she is attached to his deeds, causing him to take her to his abode to live in order to escape questioning and probable death by the strong-armed authorities.
Between the terrorist acts, V is also on a mission to assassinate certain key people with ties to his mysterious past, who not only led to his creation, but also set the wheels in motion to the police state that currently exists, and one which V has sworn to spend all of his time and efforts in toppling down. Evey is conflicted by her desires to live a free life, but through V's actions, she sees she may not be as free as she thinks unless the oppression that currently exists in her society has been eradicated.
V for Vendetta isn't a perfect film, as it is somewhat convoluted in its main plotline, and does carry its share of lulls during key moments in the movie, most notably in the middle third, when background into V's strange past is given more screen time. The beginning and end are splendid, however, and with only minor adjustments in the expository elements within the screenplay, this had the chance of being the finest science fiction film so far in the new millennium. Alas, while some elements of V are terrific, and well worth the price of admission to experience, the direction by first-timer James McTeigue, who cut his teeth as an assistant director on The Matrix films and newer Star Wars episodes, tends to favor a glossier, image-heavy way of presenting the action in the film, which does tend to detract from the characterizations, and hence, the overall identification for the audience is distanced.
Although the Wachowskis have done an admirable job in streamlining Alan Moore's original work from many of its subplots and third-tier characters, there is a notable decline in the interest value of the film when V or Evey do not appear on screen. Part of this has to do with the very derivative depictions of the totalitarian powers-that-be, which are very heavily influenced by George Orwell's "1984". John Hurt (The Skeleton Key, Hellboy) plays the head of the ruling party, as a nod to his starring performance in the "1984" film adaptation, 1984, as we see his visage in a very "Big Brother"-like fashion, larger than life and very, very sinister.
V for Vendetta definitely hits high marks for a self-aware and symbolic futuristic thriller, and should hit home for those that like to come away from a film with something to think about. Not everyone will be in tune with its message; you should never make the mistake of taking the events in the film at face value, or it just won't work. This is a film rife with symbolism, allegory, allusion, and homage, so the more well-read and film savvy you tend to be, the more you'll probably get out of it. While in the end, it is a mostly commercial venture, the artistic elements do breathe life into this genre exploration, which, like The Matrix, lifts plotlines and iconographic elements from other well-known works, and blends them into an exciting and thought-provoking hybrid.
©2006 Vince Leo