01/04/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
Tyranny breeds groovy anarchy, finds Mark. A future Britain is ruled by a repressive right-wing totalitarian government. But it is about to be challenged by an anarchist swashbuckling hero in a Guy Fawkes mask. Alan Moore's graphic novel is adapted to the screen in a brash adventure. This film is a funhouse of political ideas, some of them intentionally repugnant. You may not entirely agree with the politics, but the film is darkly colourful and fun.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
In London of the year 2020, the government is run by a repressive fascist regime, corrupt to its very foundations. The head of the government is Big Brother-like Adam Sutler (played full-out by John Hurt). His party has turned Britain into a latter-day Nazi Germany. In this London, Evey (Natalie Portman with a variable British accent) is a flunky at the equivalent of the BBC. Walking across town after dark and after curfew she is discovered by two government goons who intend to rape and likely murder her as their evening's entertainment.
Evey is terrified. But suddenly there is a hero who has come to her aid. He is V (Hugo Weaving), a sort of Zorro behind a Guy Fawkes mask. With superb knife skill he saves the woman in distress. He explains himself in an irritating but impressive speech packed with nearly every word from the V-section of the dictionary. (Are we really expected to believe he can rattle off this speech extemporaneously?)
Evey is grateful, but then has mixed emotions when he asks her to watch his next incredible feat. It is to take her to a rooftop and play Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture". Rather than punctuating it with cannon fire, he blows up the Old Bailey with flashy pyrotechnics. It is the first blow of a year in which he will kill the more offensive members of the government and blow up buildings. His reign of terror is to run from one Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, to the next. V remains the entire film behind his Guy Fawkes mask so that we never see his face.
If you don't know who Guy Fawkes was and what the Gunpowder Plot was, go to http://www.answers.com/main/ntquery?s=gunpowder+plot
now. It's okay. I'll wait.
You may have a poor memory for names and want to put a face with the character V. Perhaps a plastic Guy Fawkes mask is not exactly what you were looking for. So who is Hugo Weaving? He was Elrond in the "Lord of the Rings" films and was the evil Agent Smith who kept popping up in the "Matrix" films. Most actors find it very hard to act through a mask, but here it works in Weaving's favor that the mask makes him a cipher. In addition to the above-mentioned, the film also features Stephen Rea playing a police inspector reminiscent of his role in Citizen X. Stephen Fry is an avuncular dissident with a room dedicated to forbidden freedoms. Other familiar faces include Tim Pigott- Smith and Sinéad Cusack.
The story is based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and adapted to the screen by the Wachowski Brothers, Andy and Larry, who wrote and directed the "Matrix" movies. I cannot say that I thought any of the "Matrix" films particularly appealed to me, but this future swashbuckler with a hero that is part Edmund Dantes, part Phantom of the Opera, part Harlan Ellison's Harlequin (give them a break, Harlan - don't sue), and part Zorro is a lot of fun. As with Triumph Of The Will, one can admire the visual imagery of the film while detesting at least part of the political message. (People who get their politics from movies based on comic books deserve what they get.) But it still may be fun to spend a couple of hours in this anarchistic fantasy.
If the government ever gets this bad - and neither Britain's or the United States's government is anywhere near this bad - there might be a certain perverse pleasure in taking out one's frustration in blowing the so-and-sos up. On one hand one may be sad to see these great London buildings blown up in a film. But it must be remembered that the government represented is very little like either current government. (No, don't write me to tell me how bad the current governments are.)
Nor is it really like the one presided over by Margaret Thatcher, who was in office when the original story was published. And V is less than likeable himself. By the end of the story the viewer should realize that V is as mad and dangerous and evil as anyone he kills. He just looks fancier. And one leaves the theatre wondering what is next for the Britain in the story. It cannot be very good and is probably worse than the Britain at the beginning of the film. Perhaps Britain will go the way of Iraq when its tyrannical government was removed. In any case this is a film with a multitude of political ideas, some of which may well be offensive.
The script has several bad moments. At one point V escapes a hail of bullets with apparently only one or two wounds. That is just the wrong number. If two bullets got through to him, one wonders why not the rest. Also unexplained is that V seems to have unlimited financial resources. Somewhere he has a source producing large volumes of materials that would be highly politically suspect. It may be part of his mystery who is really behind him and where he gets his means. We find out his background and that does not answer the question.
I don't agree V For Vendetta has the politics right, but it is a compelling production with more than just violence behind it. It has political ideas. Even that is not so rare, but clearly some of the ideas are joyful, some are painful, and many are both. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2006 Mark R. Leeper