V for Vendetta

Reviewed By William Goss
Posted 04/04/06 17:05:31

"The Reason Is Treason"
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: The notion of a “thinking man’s action movie” seems to suggest that an exceedingly elaborate narrative and meaty moral dilemmas can justify the occasional blitz of pyrotechnics and testosterone for viewers looking for entertainment that manages to take their intelligence into consideration. The plot of 'V for Vendetta' isn’t much of a brain buster, yet the overt politics and ideas offer a fury that, combined with the sound of exploding buildings, commands the viewer’s attention throughout. Calling 'Vendetta' a “thinking man’s action movie” doesn’t seem terribly accurate, but few films can actually call upon their audience to think, and then to take action themselves. Let’s see a car chase pull that off.

In the near future, Britain’s fascist government, led by fear-mongering Adam Sutler (John Hurt), is challenged by the mysterious figure known as V (Hugo Weaving), a revolutionary in a Guy Fawkes mask and cape eager to overthrow the dictatorship. V manages to rescue young Evey (Natalie Portman) from a post-curfew assault, after which he invites her to witness his glorious demolition of the Old Bailey building, accompanied by the 1812 Overture. From that night on, she becomes inadvertently entangled in V’s elaborate revolution, which he intends to cap off with the destruction of Parliament in exactly one year’s time (the date on which Fawkes himself was foiled in his attempt to destroy it in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605).

Vendetta strikes an admirable balance of just enough conversation and just enough action to make nearly two hours of anticipation pay off in grand fashion, as V’s carefully orchestrated chaos builds up to the deadline of November 5, and even though V has essentially spelled out what is to take place, director James McTeigue manages to infuse the proceedings with genuine gravity and urgency. The script, by the Wachowski Brothers (the Matrix trilogy), masterfully intertwines each storyline and character at a remarkably suitable pace and even manages to sneak in several sharp moments of humor that only increase the potency of the film’s ideas.

Political beliefs, such as V’s declarations of how “ideas are bulletproof” and that “governments should be afraid of their people,” are offered with sincere conviction instead of being shoved down the nearest throat available, making them all the more effective in context. Even with the story unfurling at just the right stride, the climax, while certainly rewarding, feels mildly rushed in comparison. However widespread the narrative threads reach, the story eventually feels relatively tidy, for better or for worse.

Despite remaining a faceless figure, Weaving does an impeccable job of bringing V to life with a sense of effortless resolve, conveyed solely through his body language and vocal expression. Whether considered terrorist or freedom fighter, he turns out to be a rather well-rounded individual, with quite the penchant for alliteration and theatrics. Of course, when the going gets tough, he lets his daggers do the talking. As his primary nemesis, Hurt barks demands and threats in traditional Big Brother fashion, but does maintain the appropriate level of menace to his role. Portman does a fine job tackling a British accent while being liberated from the constraints of the oppressive society, her eventual enlightenment being a plausible and sympathetic character arc.

Oh, and the film happens to be an adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. I opted not to bother mentioning this earlier, because it fails to make any significant impact on the film's quality. Ultimately, 'V for Vendetta' works not because it’s a “comic book movie” or even a “thinking man’s action movie,” but because it’s a “movie movie,” and a surprisingly satisfying one at that.

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