Saturday, March 18, 2006

V For Vendetta (the Film)

"People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." (V, from the movie V For Vendetta)

"Remember, remember the fifth of November
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot." (Traditional Guy Fawkes Day Rhyme)

Tonight I went to see V For Vendetta, the new film written by the Wachowski Brothers (of The Matrix fame) and based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. The film has been advertised as an "Uncompromising Vision of the Future." For once, a movie's tagline isn't simple hyperbole.

Like the graphic novel upon which it is based, V For Vendetta takes place in a futuristic Britain where a fascist government is in control. Against this totalitarian government arises a lone freedom fighter, V, who has patterned himself after the notorious Guy Fawkes. For those of you who don't know your English history, on November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament using a copious amount of gunpowder. Wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, V starts his vendetta against the fascist government with a "bonfire" like no one has ever seen... In some respects, it's Batman meets 1984 meets The Phantom of the Opera...

From this description, many might think that V For Vendetta is a simple action movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like Moore and Lloyd's original graphic novel, V For Vendetta is full of ideas. Is V simply a terrorist or a freedom fighter? Do V's ends justify the means with which he carries out his vendetta against the fascist government? Is this movie simply a possible vision of the future or a commentary on current political situation? These and many other questions are posed by V For Vendetta. Indeed, it is perhaps the most subversive movie to have ever been produced by a Hollywood studio. I rather suspect that Bill O'Reilly will probably hate the film...

Without giving away any spoilers, I must say that purists who are expecting a faithful adatption of the graphic novel are going to be sorely disappointed. While V For Vendetta is much more loyal to its source material than other adaptations of Moore's works (From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman). Indeed, some of the scenes are taken directly from the graphic novel. That having been said, there were changes in the character of Evey Hammond, in how the fascist state came to power in Britain, and in even to some degree in the character of V (he does not express nearly as much anarchist philosphy as he does in the graphic novel). The reaction of the graphic novel's creators to these changes were mixed. Writer Alan Moore was so angered by the changes that he had his name removed from the credits of the film. On the other hand, illustrator David Lloyd has given the film his blessing and has been very vocal in his approval. My own personal take is that some changes were necessary in the film. The original graphic novel was publshed in 1989 and meant as an indictment against the Thatcher administration. A lot of things have changed since then and for the film to be relevant to today's audiences some aspects of the plot had to be altered.

Regardless, V for Vendetta is a very good film. Hugo Weaving is perfect as V. Clad in the Guy Fawkes mask for nearly all of the film, he expresses V's inner emotions with body language and his voice. Even considering his roles as Agent Smith in The Matrix Trilogy and Elrond in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this could well be his best role yet. Natalie Portman also does well as Evey Hammond, who is alternately fascinated with and shocked by the audacious V. The largely British supporting cast of V For Vendetta also give excellent performances. While John Hurt is impressive as High Chancellor Suttler, the best performances of the supporting players are given by Tim Piggot-Smith (who has previously appeared in Gangs of New York and The Four Feathers) and Stephen Fry (perhaps best known as Jeeves from the series Jeeves and Wooster and a veteran of many films and TV shows). Piggot-Smith gives a chilling performance as Creedy, the head of the secret police (who reminds me a bit of Dick Cheney...). As to Stephen Fry, he is delightful as Gordon Dietrich, a British television comedian with a lot to hide and everything to lose (he is one of the few sympathetic characters in the film).

V For Vendetta is the first film helmed by James McTeigue (who served as assistant director on both The Matrix Trilogy and Star Wars Episodes I-III). For a first time director he shows that he has already mastered his art. While McTeigue gives us some excellent action sequences, at the same he insures that those action sequences do not overpower the ideas that are central to film.

V For Vendetta does have its weakness, perhaps the greatest of which is suspending disbelief that one man (even assisted by Evey) can do so much. But then I suppose it must be kept in mind that in many respects the movie, like the graphic novel, is a parable. And like the graphic novel, among its themes are that one individual can make a difference.

V For Vendetta is a powerful film. I rather suspect that it will be an uncomfortable movie for many to watch (as I said, Bill O'Reilley will not like this movie...). But it is also a film that poses some important questions and does so in a way that is both entertaining and visually impressive. I really cannot recommend this movie enough.

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