The more I saw, the more I heard, the more I wanted. I was creating my own internal hype machine as the release of V for Vendetta neared. Then, as the date arrived, doubts started to creep in. As great as the trailers looked, could it really be that good? I had doubts regarding the Wachowski Brothers’ ability, I was entertained, but really let down by the two Matrix sequels, not terribly reassuring. Were they a flash in the pan? Had they peaked with the original Matrix? Enough to make one think twice about any potential greatness.
I put my reservations out of my head and went out to the theater. Am I glad I did. The film was filled with epic images, wonderfully verbose dialogue, concepts to make you think about the world around you, not to mention some fantastic performances. It did not live up to the initial hype I had built up in my head, but that did not keep it from being a wonderfully ingenious film that will most likely grow in esteem.
V for Vendetta is set in the near future, a dystopian world where England is a totalitarian state, the US in the throes of a massive civil war, a world where one man has set about taking up the reigns from a revolutionary of the past, a man focused on taking the power back for the people. We follow the enigma wrapped in a riddle, known simply as V, over the span of a year as he plans to blow up the Parliament building to incite a revolution.
The movie is sure to spark many a debate as to what the message is, as there are many different ways to interpret what happens. Is our hero simply a terrorist? Is he a madman bent on revenge, using politics as a way of justifying his actions? His actions do not offer any easy explanations, and if taken in parallel with events of our real world offer even more angles from which to attack. But, despite all of the political and societal implications that are brought up, I am more interested in the film as a singular, insulated work that lives and dies by its own ability to succeed as a film. For the most part it succeeds.
The character of V is brought to complicated life by Hugo Weaving (The Matrix Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy). Acting behind a mask for the entire film is not something that is easy to do well, if you want to inject any emotion into the role. An actor’s work has so much to do with their facial reactions, the movements, and expressions tell so much about the character, but with a mask you lose all of that. Hugo does a brilliant job at creating V as this well spoken, maniacally brilliant man. A creature of the night who strives towards his goal, a mishmash of revenge and revolution.
Playing counterpoint to V is a character of a much more human bent, Evey Hammond, played by Natalie Portman. She is a victim of her world, who comes into contact with V one evening during an altercation with the security forces. Evey goes through a rebirth, as V offers her a freedom that she has never dreamed of, while she offers V an insight into humanity. Together, they go through a transformation, he learns to love, and she learns who she really is with her first taste of freedom.
Giving a face to the other side are John Hurt and Stephen Rea. Hurt plays Sutler, the fascist dictator who will not condone any insubordination, who keeps his people “safe” by keeping them subservient. It is a one note performance, but completely effective. Stephen Rea provides the human face of the government as Finch, a detective who is willing to question all that is going on around him.
Director James McTeigue has crafted a film that has a nice blend of high concept and action. An epic fantasy that also works as social commentary, a film that always has something to watch, yet is not wall to wall action. He worked from a script by the Wachowskis which has a lot more dialogue than films of this type usually have. The dialogue is incredible, not terribly realistic, but has this big and grandiose flow that is not seen too often. They all worked off a graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. Alan Moore refused to be associated with the project due to his growing dislike of Hollywood, so his name is not in the credits.
The end result is not perfect. There are some occurrences which cannot be explained, such simple things as the obtaining and distribution of all the masks, and more complicated things such as V’s actual motivations. Some can be explained simply, while others are left open for the interpretation. I think my biggest problem is the time frame. There are sequences which don’t seem to have a definite time frame within the film. There are a few scenes which transition to others, and while they happen, nothing else is going on. I felt it to be rather jarring.
Bottomline. I found the film to be fascinating and wonderfully acted. My major questioning lies in whether this is meant to have a straightforward narrative, or if there were liberties taken within that narrative to express the ideas and concepts at the expense of the plot. Whatever the case is, V for Vendetta is a rare thriller of the modern age to have the concepts and ideas overshadow the action. This is a movie to be seen on the big screen.