V FOR VENDETTA
In a totalitarian Britain of the future, young Evey (Natalie Portman) is rescued from the clutches of the sadistic secret police one night by a man in a black outfit and black hat, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, who she (and the rest of Britain) soon learn to call simply, V (Hugo Weaving). Her life is now inexorably linked to his. With Guy Fawkes as his symbol of revolution, V plans to blow up Parliament on the anniversary of Fawke's own attempt in 1605, in the belief that the spirit of freedom will spread through the subservient Britons who will then rise up to reclaim their nation from the brutal oppressors who rule by fear. Hiding beneath V's mask is the secret not only of his identity, but the terrible injuries suffered during medical experiments years earlier, when the Government's virus experiments killed tens of thousands. Now, V's vendetta against the man at the head of the Government, Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) is in its final stage.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I relish a good politically charged action thriller (PCAT), and on one level V for Vendetta can claim fame as a non-PC example of a PCAT (central character a terrorist?), but like a black hole, it sucks up anything else in its path, from the Britain of Nineteen Eighty Four to the Nazi Germany of 1930s. The graphic novel on which this is based was apparently triggered by "Margaret Thatcher's ultra conservative government," which was "one of the driving forces behind the fascist police state we created in Vendetta," says its creator David Lloyd. "The destruction of this system was V's primary reason for existence."
But the character of V, masked and caped like all good crusaders from Zorro to Batman, is a tantalising presence beyond that. His transfiguration in the fires of an explosion that pulped a lab experimenting with viral weapons is soaked in religious symbolism, and his superhuman prowess shoves this film out of the straight genre. (Yet his home is a tribute to the arts and he listens to music, ranging from Stan Getz to the original, wonderful Julie London version of Cry Me A River. Clearly, this is a man who has taste! If people like this are threatened by their Government ....)
Putting questions of genre aside, it is the strength of the storytelling that saves the film, even from a couple of miscalculations, including a twist that I wouldn't reveal, except to say it's to do with the methods that V uses to politicise Evey to the extreme. The other is the ending; I won't go into details of course, but after buying everything else in the film, we're asked to buy into something that seems rather manufactured and contrary to our common sense. That it can survive its own ending is perhaps a fitting element, since surviving our own endings is very much a theme. The endings I refer to here are the revolutions that come at the end of political eras, but which of course mark the beginning of new ones.
Natalie Portman delivers an accessible and credible Evey, whose journey we share through every painful moment. Hugo Weaving proves that it's not just knowing the Wachowsky brothers that gets him the gig, playing the character with both his hands tied behind his acting back: we never see his face, yet we feel his emotions, at least in broad strokes.
The mask itself, which freezes an imagined Guy Fawkes smile somewhere between disquieting and reassuring, becomes one of the weapons of the ingenious V, as he taunts and terrifies the top of the totalitarian tree. Stephen Rea is superb as Finch, who leads the investigation which tries to not only find and stop V, but in the process opens the up the secrets that carry the biggest political payloads. These also provide the film's surface values (sans politics entertainment) plenty of traction.
A crunchy, multi-layered film, V for Vendetta satisfies as a complex thriller in which the stakes are much higher (dare I say nobler) than the fate of a single man or woman, but one which, ironically, emphasises the importance of the individual.
Review by Louise Keller:
The ideas behind V for Vendetta are bulletproof, even though this ambitious and extravagant futuristic thriller about truth, lies and revenge is eventually overwhelmed by an overdose of style. Based on a graphic novel, first time director James McTeigue explores multi-layered issues of control in our society, delving into a socio-political world tinged with the stench of totalitarianism and terrorism. The themes are enticing in their complexity, but the Wachowski (Matrix) Brothers' script confuses by its confluence of characters, timeframes and structure.
There are echoes of The Phantom of the Opera in V, the hideously deformed man who hides behind an eerily grinning white mask surrounded by Cleopatra hair, and whose lair is an elegant subterranean refuge of culture. When V brings Natalie Portman's Evey to his hideout, the incongruity of the environment is overwhelming. A jukebox in the middle of this Tudor museum of culture weeps musical soul from Julie London's Cry Me A River and melancholy sweeps over us.
Portman, who shaved her head for the high profile role, is as appealing as she is vulnerable, embarking on a journey in which she confronts her fears head on. Hugo Weaving's rich voice personifies V, and the best decision made by the filmmakers, is that we never see the man behind the mask. We don't need to. This way, we get a much better sense of the essence of the man burdened by his vendetta, inviting our imagination to play with the richness of the information at hand. For each character, the actors are hand picked. There's Stephen Rea as the detective driven by his fascination for his prey, Stephen Fry as the television satirist and John Hurt as the tyrannical High Chancellor. Roger Allam makes a splash as the self-obsessed vitriolic television host; the scene of him taking a shower in a vast bathroom surrounded by plasma screens each bulging with tight close ups of himself in full vitriolic flight, are unforgettable.
Like the film's ideology, the lighting is stark as we are taken behind the many masks on display. Violence erupts as the story unfolds and the lead up to the final climactic scenes becomes forced and overlong. The end spectacle, however, is superbly executed, and seeing key London landmarks in this new setting, add edge. Worth seeing, but expect confusion and overkill, V for Vendetta is too long, albeit victorious on many counts.
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V FOR VENDETTA (MA)
CAST: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Tim Piggott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Roger Allam, Ben Miles, Sinead Cusack, Natasha Wightman
PRODUCER: Joel Silver, Grant Hill, Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
DIRECTOR: James McTeigue
SCRIPT: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski (graphic novel by David Lloyd)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adrian Biddle BSC
EDITOR: Martin Walsh ACE
MUSIC: Dario Marianelli
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Owen Patterson
RUNNING TIME: 132 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 30, 2006