V for Vendetta

V for Vanilla.

Released in 2005, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 22 Mar 2006 by Scott Morris
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It's a brave film in many ways, V for Vendetta. Given the current political climate and the McCarthy-esque witch hunt cum permanent war on 'terror', however 'terror' is being defined today, a flick where the protagonist is thundering around London blowing buildings up and killing the odd politician would seem a touch controversial for a Hollywood funded outing. Given that this is starting to make it sound like the unnatural, revolting combination of Michael Moore and Michael Bay films, perhaps it would be prudent to disseminate some essential plot information.

The future of England, according to this Wachowski brothers produced, James McTeigue directed adaptation of Alan Moore's seminal V for Vendetta graphic novel isn't bright, it's dark and wears jackboots. With America collapsed into civil war and dangerous virii and terrorii clapping at our heels, England takes the 'Orwellian Nightmare' ball and runs with it in the name of protecting the common man. Dangerous elements like 'homosexuals', 'foreigners' and 'non-Christians' are expunged from society. State controlled media spouts sabre-rattling propaganda and mild brainwashing. Art is censored, free speech a distant memory. Gee, I sure hope someone takes a stand against all of this.

Ah, hello V (Hugo Weaving)!. What's that mask supposed to be of, Mr. V? Guy Fawkes? I've lived in the U.K. all of my life and never seen a Guy Fawkes mask! When did that become a pop culture touchstone? Not so wordy now, are you? Still, cheers for the whole running around bombing stuff, assassinating high ranking government officials and generally fermenting revolution. Much appreciated. Also appreciating V's effort is Evey (Natalie Portman), inadvertently caught up in his schemes after a chance encounter saving her from the neo-Gestapo 'Fingermen'.

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What follows, perhaps unexpectedly if you'd placed any stock in the trailer, is not an action-packed explosive thrill ride as V murders his way through the party apparachik, but rather Evey attempting to understand why V's doing what he's doing and how he can justify it (which has some horrendous repercussions for her that are bafflingly glossed over) and two relatively decent coppers Finch (Stephen Rea) and Dominic (Rupert Graves) trying to get on V's trail by researching his mysterious past. This, naturally, leads to unpleasant revelations about the vile, ranting leader of this New World Order Adam Sutler (John Hurt, who for some reason I keep thinking is dead and as such massively surprised every time he appears in a film) and vile, ranting, raving media mouthpiece Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam) serving to make sure you know that the evildoers are indeed Very Bad Men and as such it's alright for a Slightly Less Evil Man to kill them, ends justifying the means. Or does it? OR DOES IT? Yes. Yes, it does,

The problem, if you start to take what V for Vendetta says about politics seriously, is that it's ludicrous. The subtle use of fear as a control method is obvious and well documented enough through history up until the current "terrorists are everywhere and are mere seconds away from brutally murdering you ... unless you stop doing X, give up Y and don't complain about it, otherwise clearly you're a terrorist too" spiel in whose name we're busy sacrificing civil liberties and imprisoning people without charge - not for nothing does the film namedrop rendition flights. That's fair comment and heartening to see somewhere outside of a Michael Moore film. V for Vendetta then suffers from a lapse of self-restraint.

It just can't resist cranking the crackpot conspiracy dial some distance past the 11 notch, coming to rest somewhere around 4356. Observers of the lunatic fringe such as myself (by which I mean I observe the lunatic fringe, not that I'm part of it, although I suppose Mandy Rice Davies Applies) will note the use of Bird Flu hysteria mentioned here is exactly that typically attributed to the Illuminati, and that's one of the more believable things it says. The more extreme acts attributed to the thankfully fictional political movement that evolves into the film's oppressor come straight from David Icke's wilder 'Reptilian Agenda' crazytalk. That the nutso stuff is mentioned in the same breath as it's more legitimate points sort of undermines it, wouldn't you say?

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You can't help but applaud V for Vendetta's moxy for trying to cover points like this, even if it does have to tone them down so much that it's creator wishes to disown it. Moore has a point, as it's the refusal to fully commit and go for the jugular that winds up being V for Vendetta's greatest failing. V needs to be clinically insane for his self-justifications of his actions to work, instead he seems mildly eccentric. When it should be dark and brooding, it's jaunty with the odd black undercurrent. The (thankfully few) scenes it sets up for balls-out action sequences it delivers distinctly balls-in action sequence, although that's an improvement on the ballsed-up action scenes of the last two flicks with the Wachowski's name plastered all over it. It steps in the right direction, but doesn't make the great strides we may have hoped for.

At the end of the day, I want to like V for Vendetta a lot more than can actually be justified by it's contents. Weaving and Portman prove again to be eminently watchable and carry the movie quite effectively, given that not an awful lot happens in it that doesn't reduce to two coppers trying to work out the story behind V's past while sitting behind a desk. Speaking of the policemen, both Stephen Rea and Rupert Graves prove adept in their expositional role, holding interest in what could have produced some very dry segments indeed. John Hurt's spittle-unleashing angry man schtick is effective, never quite crossing over the line from threatening to parody even if it does get uncomfortably near it sometimes.

In a world where you could simply read 1984, can we really justify V for Vendetta's existence as a separate piece of art? Lord knows, but that's not the sort of question we ever set out to answer around these parts. Is V for Vendetta any good? Well, it's not bad, and going by the standard of most movies these days that makes it considerably better than much of the stuff leaking it's way into multiplexes. It's decent enough fare, and a vast improvement over the last two things with the Wachowski branding anywhere near it, but it's hardly essential viewing.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

James McTeigue
Cast list:
Natalie Portman (Evey)
Hugo Weaving (V)
Stephen Rea (Finch)
Stephen Fry (Deitrich)
John Hurt (Adam Sutler)
Tim Pigott-Smith (Creedy)
Rupert Graves (Dominic)
Roger Allam (Lewis Prothero)