Based on the Vertigo/DC graphic novel by Alan Moore, "V for Vendetta" is far from the usual comic book adaptation Hollywood normally brings to the screen. With only isolated action scenes, most of them of the knife-and-gun-fighting variety, and precious few CGI effects, audiences only looking for the adrenaline rush the somewhat misleading trailers suggested will come away feeling undernourished. For viewers who like a little food for thought to go along with their explosions and violence, however, "V for Vendetta" will likely leave them more than fulfilled.
Directed by James McTeigue (in a felicitous debut) and written by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, redeeming themselves after 2003's disastrous "The Matrix Revolutions
," this thoughtful, multilayered meditation on totalitarian government as it relates to the real world's own past and present is politically loaded in the best way. In a post-9/11 world of paranoia and fear, where terrorism and religious zealotry run rampant and nations wage war at the whim of questionable leadership, the film couldn't come at a more opportune time.
Set in the crumbling landscape of Britain, circa 2020, the dictatorial government led by Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) has paved the way for widespread public unrest. When fledgling, mild-mannered television reporter Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is caught walking the streets past curfew and put in harm's way, she is saved by V (Hugo Weaving), a masked "freedom fighter" whose brand of justice includes terrorist tactics on those responsible for making the world what it has become.
The daughter of deceased political activists, Evey is uncontrollably drawn to V without exactly believing at first in his extremist methods, and is soon swept away to his underground lair as secret police investigator Finch (Stephen Rea) searches for her whereabouts. Now that she is directly connected to V's crimes, torture and possibly death are certainties if captured. V's uncompromising personal journey toward vengeance on those with past ties in unleashing the St. Mary's virus on upwards of 80,000 innocent citizen several years ago is destined to come to a head on the fifth of November, a date which heand later Eveyis determined to not let anyone forget.
Aggressive in both its cleanly concocted narrative and some timely hot-button issues (i.e. political dictatorships vs. democratic governments, terrorism, religion, homosexuality, genocide), "V for Vendetta" is a motion picture of worthwhile ideas over flashy style when most big-budget extravaganzas tend toward preferring the latter over the former. To be sure, the film looks great, thanks to atmosphere-drenched cinematography by the late Adrian Biddle (2004's "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
") and a rich color palette of grays and deep reds, but the exterior sheen never overwhelms the story's focus. And, while set in a society nearly fifteen years in the future, there are no far-fetched technological flourishes or leaps in logic to take the viewer out of the reality director James McTeigue has brought to fruition. The world as envisioned in "V for Vendetta," as well as the fictional events leading up to its "explosive" conclusion, are sobering in their very plausibility.
The relationship formed between Evey and V blesses the movie with some much-needed human intimacy in between its political aims. Complex in its development and suggestive in nature, these two's unlikely bond transcends obvious romantic implications and becomes so much more, with V helping Evey to open her eyes to the world around her and gain the courage to fight for what is right, and Evey showing V for the first time in his life what it is like to be valued and loved. That V is never seen without his mask onundoubtedly a symbolic statement of the emotional masks people are often forced to hide behind out of fear of rejection and ostracismis a courageous move, and one that never hinders his definition and buildup into a three-dimensional and sympathetic human being.
A couple instances of shaky British dialect notwithstanding, Natalie Portman (2004's "Garden State
") is mesmerizing as Evey, a young woman who comes into her own in some profound ways during the course of the film. Besides being physically demandingthe actress agreed to shave her hair for a crucial plot development that occurs midway throughPortman does wonders in layering her character and allowing the personal arc Evey experiences to be an indelible one. Acting behind a mask couldn't have been easy, but Hugo Weaving (2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
") pulls it off spectacularly, digging into the mind of V and successfully expressing his character's steadfast, merciless beliefs. Not once does it seem like something is missing in Weaving's performance because we never see his face. Making the most of his limited time onscreen is John Hurt (2005's "The Skeleton Key
") as Chancellor Adam Sutler, scarily embodying human evil while unofficially modeling himself after Adolf Hitler.
If "V for Vendetta" ultimately bites off more than it can chew in its running time of 132 minutescertain controversial matters, such as a scene involving a lecherous priest, aren't explored quite enough to transcend their shock valuea film that overshoots its ambitions is still infinitely preferable any day of the week over one without a thought in its puny little head. Unexpectedly moving even in some of its minor notesan extended flashback involving the ill-fated Valerie (Natasha Wightman), whose struggles as a gay woman living in Britain finally led her to a few fleeting years of the happiness she had always yearned for is beautifully handleddirector James McTeigue has impressively brought to the big screen a comic book that actually has a reason for existing other than to show off the latest in visual effects technology. "V for Vendetta" is a thinking person's popcorn movie, and an involving, perceptive and consistently fascinating one at that. Some politicians currently in office could stand to learn a thing or two from the valuable messages on display.