Friday, January 5, 2007

V for Vendetta


Not Subtle, but Effective Political Statement

There is nothing objective in filmmaking. Even the most ‘pure’ documentary is still a subjective statement (what did they film that they are not showing you?). Narratives are totally manipulative, since they are scripted before any kind of production takes place. Some movies really lay it on thick, especially those with an agenda to drive home. Such is the case with V for Vendetta, a slick action/drama tale that warns us about the perils of an oppressive government, and what could be done about it.

The world of the near future is not a pretty place, with war and disease running rampant. In Britain, control is maintained by overzealous dictator Adam Sutler (John Hurt), who rules the country through manipulation of the airwaves and strict militaristic oppression. Out past state curfew, Evey (Natalie Portman) is accosted by Gestapo-like ‘fingermen’ who attempt to rape her instead of throwing her in jail. A masked, knife-wielding figure intervenes, saving her life. He describes himself only as ‘V’, a revolutionary who threatens to bring down the totalitarian rule, and restore the government to the people.

V for Vendetta is so much a political statement, that it borders on propaganda. I don’t fault it for this, it’s just very obvious. There are nods to Orwell’s 1984 (dictator Hurt appears on a huge view screen, and government eavesdroppers patrol the street at night), and Nazism. There is also some disturbing imagery that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Abu Ghraib prison abuses. All of this (and more) supports the theme that governments are corrupt and are no longer under popular control. Much of this feels very contemporary, commenting more on current events than anything that happened in the past.

V was written by Andy and Larry Wachowski (adapted from Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s graphic novel), and helmed by long-time second and first assistant director James McTiegue. They all have done a good job in packaging a lot of hard-to-swallow commentary into a glossy, exciting package. There is a lot of action, but also some tender character moments that catch you off guard (such as when Portman is “processed”), and a fantastic twist that I did not see coming. It’s these uncharacteristic moments that make V a better movie than it could have been. In fact, when we get a violent conclusion (in the form of a bloody showdown), I was wishing more of those moments would return.

The acting is all first rate. Natalie Portman (Star Wars Episode III) again proves how good she can be. Evey is a complex character who really goes through the ringer in this film, and we completely relate to her situation. The character of V is never unmasked, but is voiced by the great Hugo Weaving (The Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogies), who gives a performance just as great (or perhaps better) than anything he has done using that wonderful face of his. I also liked Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) as a good cop trying to work within a corrupt system.

While this movie doesn’t do everything right (the ending is pretty silly, the whole thing feels long, and how does V see through those tiny slits in his mask?), it does enough to make it worth watching. It’s easy to write off a comic book adaptation as unimportant geek-boy fluff, but V for Vendetta makes you sit up and take notice that all might not be right with our world--whether you’re a geek-boy or not.

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