IMDB #170 V For Vendetta

A vague idea: when viewing violent, voluminous vestiges of visual vehicles of verbalization (as V for Vendetta, a virulent volume of vastly vivacious verse, verily), the vein of vindictive votaries may veer to volatile vandilizations void of valid and virtuous veneration of the value therein vaunted.

Ahem. What I mean is, fans of Alan Moore (and David Lloyd)'s landmark graphic novel may be unfairly prone to dislike its 2006 film adaptation before even seeing it. And it's perfectly understandable, given Moore's long history of getting butchered by Hollywood, which reached a nadir with The Leage Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

But we're here to review the film, on its own, with a gracious acknowledgment that Alan Moore deserves nearly all of the credit for the great parts of the film and none of the blame for the not-as-great parts. Okay? Let's dive in, then.

The Key Players:

Director James McTeigue has gone on to direct Ninja Assasin, and could have a long, fruitful career in his own right. But I'd bet when you search him on imdb his pull credit will always be "Second Unit Director, The Matrix," as it is right now. Because V for Vendetta is really a product of co-writers and co-producers Andy and Larry Wachowski, masterminds of The Matrix trilogy and the bonkers Speed Racer live adaptation.

Our cast, it is super-loaded: Natalie Portman had by last decade parlayed her dramatic indie chops and Star Wars prequel overexposure into A-list star status. Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, the Lord of the Rings series) was brought in to replace James Purefoy as the title character.

In support are Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, The End of the Affair), John Hurt (1984, Alien), and Stephen Fry (Gosford Park, Jeeves!).

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The Story:

SO much going on here: it's the near future, totalitarian England (that seems to happen a lot, huh?)- a despot named Adam Sutler (Hurt) has come to power, riding a wave of paranoia and fear after a terrorist biological attack.

Evey Hammond (Portman) heads out after curfew, only to be accosted by sleazy, corrupt "Fingermen" (like the gestapo)- she's saved by a cloaked, Guy Fawkes-masked, seemingly super-strong man who introduces himself as only 'V' (Weaving), who invites her to see a concert with him.

That concert turns out to be the 1812 Overture, hacked into the police loudspeakers, as a backdrop to his detonation of the Old Bailey (part of the Crown Court buildings), right at the stroke of midnight, turning the calendar to November 5th (Guy Fawkes' day).

The next day, an irate Sutler berates his underlings (ironically via huge, 1984-style tv screen), including his right hand man Creedy and Chief Police Inspector Finch (Rea), and promises are made to capture the terrorist immediately, and the girl who was with him.

Finch follows a lead on said girl to Evey's place of employment, the British Television Network where she's a PA. Just as the news crews are busy proclaiming last night's explosion a "planned demolition," V shows up with a bomb strapped to his chest, hijacks the signal, and sends out a message eloquently decrying the government, the apathy and fear that led to their power, and exhorting one and all to show up at Paliament one year hence, when he'll blow that up too.

Evey sees V nearly caught during his escape (as they were already coincidentally there, looking for her), and maces a policeman to help him, getting knocked on the head for her trouble. V takes her to his lair, to spare her the secret prison route of Creedy's secret police.

Then we see V sneak in to the home of "The Voice of London," Bill O'Reilly-like pundit Lewis Prothero, and kill him- Evey, revealing her parents' abduction and deaths at the regime's hands, promises to help him kill another important party member, a pedophile priest, but she tries to warn the man and runs away, frightened of V's murder-spree.

V also kills (more humanely) a Dr. Surridge, and at this point we realize V is killing not just important regime members, but people who held him captive many years before at Larkhill Detention Center, where the party performed awful genetic experiments on "undesirables" killing all but the man in the cell with Roman Numeral V on the door, who was transformed as a result.

Evey meanwhile, goes to the home of Gordon (Fry), a tv comedian (what a stretch) and her friend. He's recently been emboldened by V's actions, and stages a skit mocking Chancellor Sutler on his latest show- for which he is hooded and taken away, of course. Evey tries to sneak out a window, but is snatched as well.

She's tossed in a cell, her head is shaved, she's tortured and questioned- but will she cooperate and give them V's location? The shadowy interrogator promises her that's all they want, and she'll be free. And why do all of Finch's superior's want him to stop looking into Larkhill and V's past, once he realizes the pattern of those getting murdered?

The Artistry:

V For Vendetta had a couple different crosses to bear, so to speak- both in their way impossible ones. There's the Alan Moore contingent, a bitter, frothing, reclusive mass that had been burned a few times and were pessimists by nature, as well as The Matrix fans, the die-hards that shook their heads and got into the sequels, and the die-softers that could still get pumped about a Wachowski project that they didn't write themselves.

Would their new project, rife with many of the same dystopian themes, reclaim that Matrix magic without turning Moore's beloved think-piece into a prolonged music video?

Turns out more yes than no, even if Moore and many of his fans disagree. Certain subplots were logically removed, and the focus shifted slightly, but the result is a rollicking fable on its own merits.

There's an action scene very, very late that lusicrous slow-mo nonsense, as jarringly out of place as the "bullet time" scene in The Matrix was breathtaking and innovative, but otherwise the filmmakers show some restraint and focus on the performances.

Weaving's jovial, theatrical turn (perhaps mostly in the ADR booth) creates a memorable character without a face to remember. Hurt's few scenes are all memorable bombastic scenery-chewing. Portman's early innocence is a little forced to me (though her accent was fine to my American ears), but I warmed to her sincerity as the film went on- and the role of audience cipher is always a little thankless.

The MVP is really Stephen Rea, though, at his weary, doleful, Stephen-Rea-iest best. He mopes from point to point, and underplays the reactions to the conspiracy he uncovers quite well.

In fact, the biggest thing I miss from the graphic novel is a scene where his character, equally reserved, goes to the ruins of Larkhill and trips on acid until he has a revelation- Rea takes the same trip and has a much milder revelation, but apparently sober.

Otherwise mostly everything went right- V For Vendetta clocks in at a snappy 2:10, especially for all of the exposition it has to dole out the entire time. The colors are muted, the nostalgic fancies of V are all there.

The film's commitment to general theatricality is perhaps what make it worth reviewing. Witness the insane, not-Alan-Moore's-at-all monologue by which V introduces himself (as parodied above). Or the glossy, dreamlike reading of the prison-cell note.

Yes, the film changes from a morally ambigous study of anarchism vs. facism to a liberal freedom fighter's quest to topple ultra-conserativism (still sorta facist, though), and its even brief couching of the origins of the conflict in terms of American wars makes it more of an American fable. Well...I'm an American liberal, so tough.


Evey finds a note, from a fellow prisoner named Valerie who had been rounded up as a homosexual, and the story of her life gives Evey the courage to defy her inquisitor and accept that she'll be killed. At which point he tells her she's free to go. So she walks out of her cell... into V's home. Turns out he's been torturing her, to teach her to live without fear.

She's enraged, but also emboldened by the ordeal, and decides to leave. V is sad, and asks that she come back before Nov. 5th, once more.

Finch eventually discovers that the government itself engineered the bioattack that led to their takeover (gasp!), but also that his informant was V. So who knows? (except that we know). V strikes a deal with Creevey to hand himself over in exchange for the life of Sutler (this is a suprisingly easy deal to broker.

The day arrives, and Creedy delivers- Sutler gets one in the head. Then a whole group of soldiers take a whole bunch of shots at V, but he's still standing, and kills them with knives in that nut-bonkers, indulgent sequence, and Creedy as well. That's why you don't make deals with people in masks, Creedy.

V stumbles back to his train full of explosives, says goodbye to Evey, who earlier came to see him off as promised, and dies. Finch arrives (he had a hunch about it, or something), but Evey stares him down and flips the train on to head it toward Parliament.

Which then explodes, and the people all takes off their Guy Fawkes masks (V sent them to everyone in the mail) and watch the fireworks, unsure of what awaits them tomorrow.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Maybe a little lower? It's super-fun, but I don't know if it's top 200 material.

The Legacy:

A decent-enough box office return and positive reviews will suffice for now. The real legacy- it's the best Alan Moore adaptation to date, and for all the things different from the source, it's more than made up for it in the extra sales thereby generated. The flashy, worse-every-time-I-watch-it Watchmen can't even come close, you ask me.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

The so-cheesy-it's-fun alliterative speech, kinetic-typography-style!

Leftover Thoughts:

-Neil Gaiman has a pretty good theory about how the excreable LoXG adaptation is really the best thing to happen to comic book movies, since all the reviews (and the consensus) was "ruins a great comic," and helped us take it for granted that comics can be great literature that films can then ruin.

-The Wikipedia article on the Wachowski brothers REFERENCES ITSELF WHAT? Also both imdb and Wikipedia are rife with the seemingly unconfirmed theory that Larry Wachowski has undergone a sex change operation and is now known as Lana, to the point that both names are changed in the user-edited databases.

-Hey it's Patrick from "Coupling"! Neat. I heard that Jeff is in Prince of Persia and just the thought of taking him seriously in an action movie cracked me up.

-If I ever have a mansion (or a lair), The Shadow Gallery would be a pretty good name.

Coming Up...

169. Star Trek

168. The Wages of Fear

167. Ratatouille

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