A highly entertaining Vendetta

For audiences who endured box-office duds Aeon Flux and Ultraviolet, V For Vendetta represents a truly well-made sci-fi story concerning a totalitarian future. James McTeigue, an experienced assistant director, makes his directorial debut with a fast-paced action-thriller that is highly entertaining and thoughtful.

It opens with a short prologue detailing the November Gunpowder Plot. More than 400 years ago, Guy Fawkes attempted and failed to blow up the British House of Parliament. The act cemented his image in history and inspired, among other things, a poem about his exploits, “Remember, Remember the Fifth of November.” Charles Dickens referred to Fawkes in his novels and T. S. Eliot mentions him in his poem The Hollow Men. The phoenix that appears in the Harry Potter books is named after him and a parallel has been drawn between the characters in the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix, and the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot. In this film the spirit of Fawkes is resurrected in the form of a man named “V,” played by Hugo Weaving, who stalks the streets of London wearing a mask bearing the revolutionary’s likeness.

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, V For Vendetta takes place in the year 2020. London is a dreary society controlled by a fascist government. The media spouts propaganda and the people live in fear. Evey, played by Natalie Portman, works for her nation’s only TV station. She is on her way home after a curfew has been declared when a sadistic group of secret police ambush her. Evey is saved by the masked vigilante known as V. After taking care of her attackers using some well-placed slashes and punches, V offers Evey a chance to “hear an orchestra” before promising to safely return her home. Evey accepts and together they proceed to witness the complete demolition of the Old Bailey Court, while Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture blares over the neighbourhood’s loudspeakers. This is the first of many memorable, iconic moments that appear throughout the movie.

V For Vendetta was written and produced by the Wachowski brothers, makers of the Matrix trilogy. This movie contains more dialogue then their last two films and formulates plenty of ideas: is this an allegory of present world politics, a reminder of the past, or simply a harmless spectacle of sci-fi escapism? The movie asks questions about the price of safety over freedom and argues that a terrorist is defined by perspective.

V For Vendetta is, among other things, a revenge tale in the spirit of V’s favourite movie, The Count of Monte Cristo. The film manages to carefully craft its protagonist, and V is a character about whom the audience can easily be skeptical because the methods he employs to get what he wants are unflinchingly straightforward. The movie demonstrates ways in which terrorism can be presented, and in a post-9/11 period such actions could spell doom for a high-caliber Hollywood film.

It should be taken into consideration that the graphic novel by Moore and Lloyd was inspired by the political climate during the reign of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, though its message remains relevant today.

Weaving, who remains masked throughout the film, demonstrates an exceptional acting ability and voice. Throughout the movie he displays a full spectrum of emotions and makes V one of the coolest masked personas since Batman. V’s antics, such as his introductory monologue which uses nearly every “v” word in the dictionary, allow us to believe that this one man can achieve the seemingly impossible things he sets out to do.

Weaving’s performance is complemented by Natalie Portman, who starts out playing a regular, concerned citizen and becomes transformed by V. Portman represents a very human component of the movie and plays off of V’s audacity with sincerity. The movie actually has a great deal in common with the Phantom of The Opera, as viewed through V’s relationship with Evey.

Other notable performances include Rupert Graves and Stephen Rea, who play a pair of world-weary detectives who are trying to track down V’s origins. John Hurt is menacing as a thundering dictator, an ironic contrast to his performance as shy Stan Winston in the film adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984. He seems to enjoy playing such a power-mad individual. Stephen Fry is amusing as Evey’s co-worker, who becomes convinced that he should help V.

V For Vendetta contains many eye-opening moments. This film was the last to be shot by veteran cinematographer Adrian Biddle, who worked as director of photography on Aliens, The Princess Bride and the modern Mummy movies. V for Vendetta mixes rich images, deep shadows and moody fight scenes in order to arrest the viewer’s attention. One major difference that sets this film apart from others about future societies is that there are no glaring visual changes in the world of the future: this movie contains no flying cars or oddball clothes. In fact, things look more or less the same as they do now, which gives V For Vendetta an extra tinge of eeriness.

V For Vendetta is a success for the film’s visionaries, McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers. At two hours long, it flies by because it looks great, features a good cast and likely will spur arguments over its meaning after the credits have rolled.

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