Sunday, August 20, 2006

V for Vendetta

This is the Wachowski Brothers' latest go, a futuristic-yet-relevant and surely controversial adaptation of Allan More's graphic novel. Sort of a 'Matrix Meets the Nazis.'

The movie gets to the action right away, the correct choice considering that our "hero" tends to wax rhapsodically for hours (okay, minutes) about what he's doing and why. Evey, our everywoman as portrayed by Natalie Portman, gets attacked on the streets late at night after curfew (our first cue that this England is somewhat different), and the masked character V comes to her aid with his twirling knives and furious fists. She becomes his unwitting accomplice in a series of terrorist attacks as V tries to bring down the Nazi-like regime currently in power.

Despite his monologues, V is an intriguing character, one who outright commemorates Guy Fawkes, the antihero of Britain's past.

"Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
gunpowder treason and plot.
I see no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot."

V's point is to blow up the symbols of power and bring the Brits back to their senses (and away from their tellies). It's an intriguing premise, and certainly a disturbing one. A terrorist....who's a hero? V for Vendetta wants us to wholly embrace this concept and not examine it too closely.

There's lots to fascinate.

*The number of times the letter 'V' appears in the film. V's introductory speech to Evey is V-alliterative, containing 50-plus words that begin with the letter. We see V appear time and time again, from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to the number on a cell door. A big V appears on Big Ben's face. But why V? An inverted A for Anarchy, perhaps?
*The comparision with classics such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984. Seeing John Hurt's face on a huge screen where he faces down his lieutenants was terribly satisfying -- where has Hurt been all of this time? So benignly misused in Alien, he has resurfaced in a role where he commands the screen with his evilness.
*A paean to, of all things, Benny Hill's slapstick T.V. show. In fact, one scene showing one of the few T.V. shows left in Britain uses the same music and the same type of sped-up vaudevillian sequences.
*The fact that you never see lead actor Hugo Weaving's face through this hideously creepy mask! And yet he gives his speeches and conveys emotion totally throughout. It really is a virtuoso performance.
*The production used 22,000 dominoes, a set-up that took 200 hours to put together, in a scene where V tips over black and red dominoes to form a giant letter V. I wasn't timing it, but it seemed that this scene was only on screen a maximum of 10 seconds.

The acting is really top notch, and the casting is superb, from John Hurt, Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving down to the lower players. Stephen Rea portrays the detective that figures out V's past. Rea, whose every doubt can be traced on that wrinkly face, is astonishing. I did not recognize most of the other players, but they were excellent.

There's a point where the movie draws you into believing the terrorism throughout, where I found myself saying, Yes, I believe V when he says he has to destroy this building, or that television studio. The production does a good job of sucking me into that belief system. However, there are scenes later in this rather complicated screenplay when I'm expected to believe that Evey's suffering at the hands of V is completely justifiable -- well, that's absurd. And Portman's Evey buys the whole story. This twist in the plot is deeply disturbing.

This whole movie is disturbing, yet brilliantly so. My young friend Jim dismissed the movie and told me to read the graphic novel. I suspect that those who have read it may not like the movie. But I found it refreshing, fascinating, obsessive. Can a terrorist be a hero? Are there parallels to the politics going on between Britain and the U.S. today? Was V really mad, or just a very effective revolutionary?

Thumb's up for V for Vendetta.