director: James McTeigue
starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt
running time: 132 mins
A Catholic who lights fireworks on the 5th of November, blissfully unaware of the irony, is not wrong, merely telling. V’s continual references to Guy Fawkes, not least in his masked visage, undoubtedly flew over the heads of most American viewers and may have been largely a distraction. Yet even in the UK we have largely forgotten him, as the film itself points out. Resurrecting the figure as an icon, V For Vendetta is based loosely upon a comicbook by Alan Moore (who, as usual, has distanced himself from the project), translated by the Wachowskis into a near future that more closely parallels our own timeline.
While the former USA is in chaos, 2020 England is held together by a totalitarian government who control the people through media domination and force. We see events through the eyes of Evey Hammond [Natalie Portman] who is rescued by a terrorist known only as V [Hugo Weaving]. She is at first impressed by his “orchestrated” explosive demolition of the Old Bailey to the sound of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, then horrified by his violent attacks against government figures, until finally she comes to understand V himself. The film is about the idea, while the story she tells is about the man.
The film’s most chilling line is the high chancellor’s enraged cry, “I want them to remember why they need us!” as he feels his vice-like grip over the population beginning to slip. The idea that control of population, largely through fear, is paramount provides a vision that could easily be applied to more than one western government. Yet although our perspective leads us to side with V from the start, room is given for us to question his actions and even the state in which he leaves things. Weaving does well in giving a masked character a little personality, though most of the acting is decent but unremarkable. It is really a film of impressive moments, climaxing with the fantastic domino montage, but even together they are not significant enough to warrant revisiting.
The fault lies largely with the Wachowskis’ script. While the story unfolds wonderfully, like the Matrix sequels it is plagued by the fact that the writing is never quite as clever as it thinks it is. Aside from the initial alliterative v-filled vernacular of V’s first verbose vocalisation (err, sorry) little of the dialogue is worth commenting upon. Its aggressive palette of reds and blacks is not as stylised as a Superhero movie, but we edge towards easy Nazi imagery instead of the more indirect 1984. It is grounded by its real-world setting, giving the ideas voiced more gravitas than in a fantasy one. The media parallels drawn are eerily accurate, but the political side is soporifically blunt. It might be viewed as a bold statement in this respect, and is certainly enjoyable and engaging in its storytelling, but it lacks the clarity to leave you thinking for very long once the credits roll. Nevertheless as a wake-up call, reminding people to pay attention to where our nations and our governments are headed, it may just do its job.