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V For Vendetta (2006) Print E-mail
Friday, 17 March 2006
Whatever anyone thinks of “V for Vendetta,” nobody can accuse its makers – that would be studio Warner Bros., a team of producers including Joel Silver and “Matrix” creators Andy and Larry Wachowski, director James McTeigue, screenplay adapters the Wachowskis and original graphic novel creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd – of timidity. There are plenty of relatively comfortable stories out there about lone avengers taking on unjust Powers That Be, but in “V,” the egregious evils of a quite recognizable if fictional futuristic government have to do with specific present-day issues: anti-Muslim sentiment, the merging of church and state, institutionalized homophobia and censorship of the media. These topics are often covered by both drama and comedy, but where “V for Vendetta” stakes out its own territory is in solidly endorsing bombings and assassinations as a righteous response to the wrongs of authority.

Setting aside discussion of this provocative aspect of the film for a moment, “V” is entertaining as a sort of erudite, kickass tragic romance with an agitprop message, martial arts and the occasional conflagration. After a prologue, showing us the ill-fated and famous-in-England attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605. Jump forward about 420 years in the future. England has become a sort of totalitarian state, reluctant to give aid to the plague-ridden “former United States of America” while it sorts out its own problems. TV production assistant Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) breaks curfew one night to go out and is assaulted by two policemen. She is violently rescued by V (Hugo Weaving), a figure wearing cape, hat and Guy Fawkes mask who invites Evey to listen to a concert with him. In fact, he has her as his companion as he blows up a government structure. V has a far bigger plan in mind, though – he means to observe the anniversary of Fawkes’ efforts by actually blowing up Parliament on Nov. 5 one year hence. Evey goes back to her life, but when V invades the TV station where she works, Evey winds up saving him from security forces and V in turn brings Evey back to his hidden lair, where he attempts to convince her to join his cause. Both V and Evey are being tracked by detectives Finch (Stephen Rea) and Dominic (Rupert Graves); Finch at least may be too bright for his own good.

Director James McTeigue has a lot of flair, especially with the plentiful action sequences, impressively choreographed by stuntmaster Chad Stahelski and performed by (among others) the V stunt double David Leitch. There’s just enough stylization here for us to believe V’s blades can prevail against guns. The dialogue in the Wachowskis’ screenplay, which quotes liberally from Shakespeare and other sources, strikes the right notes – the movie and V himself are equally aware that he’s a bit pompous and pretentious and socially klutzy, despite his brilliance at stealth attacks, and that awareness works entirely in favor of the atmosphere. Hugo Weaving is suave and intriguing as V and Portman does a wonderful job as a diffident young woman who winds up as a very different sort of person entirely before all is said and done. Rea projects watchful intelligence and Stephen Fry is gently beguiling as a work associate of Evey’s. John Hurt is suitably rabid as the head of the government and Tim Pigott-Smith is icy and forceful as his ruthless second in command.

Visually, the impression is of flairs of light against darkness, with lots of reds, blacks and whites contrasted with warm, cluttered interiors. Sonically, the film has extra-clean dialogue (probably the result of looping all of V’s lines in post, as the on-set microphone would have a tough time picking up words through the mask) with well-blended effects. The several big explosions go from one end of the theatre to the other, shaking the air as they blow through.

“V for Vendetta” will inevitably be controversial. This reviewer liked both style and substance, but it’s easy to see how some viewers may like the message but not the medium, while others may enjoy the spectacle of combat but not like the politics, and still others may be turned off to the whole package. No matter one’s views, it must be acknowledged that nobody else is making popular entertainment of this particular variety at present.

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