A Film Review By The Mike
|Starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Stephen Rea
Directed By: James McTeigue
Rated Rated R for Violence, British Cursewords, Terrorism, and Bald Chicks
Most critics are going at V for Vendetta, the latest film written by The Wachowski Brothers, with guns blazing and abundant questions. They want a better understanding of how the film wants us to feel about the terrorist who is also the film’s hero, and they don’t seem to want to come to their own assumptions about the film. In a day and time when constant complaints arise about Hollywood’s unwillingness to push the envelope, I find this response quite puzzling. The movie, which is directed by veteran assistant director James McTeigue, is a rare sort in Hollywood these days. It’s a hard-boiled, thought-provoking, R rated film that’s partially an action/adventure film but moreover a radical social commentary. As I viewed the film I couldn’t help thinking of the movie as a more fantastic tale than as a look at our current culture, but the parallels to today’s society are evident.
What happens in the movie is sort of a mix between ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ (which is referenced as V’s favorite movie) and ‘1984’ (though the similarities to that work are more distant and implied.) From a graphic novel by Alan Moore (LXG, From Hell) it tells the story of a masked man known only as V who apparently is the only person in England that recognizes the fact the government isn’t as nice as it seems. Like any revolutionary, he’s not always alone, as evidenced by the confusion among some over a silly curfew law or the little girl who thinks most of the news on TV is “bollocks” (which I think is my new favorite curse word). But he’s the only person that seems to be doing anything about it, until he becomes visible to others who must decide whether his acts are noble or insane. That starts with his rescue of and ensuing friendship with Evey, played by Natalie Portman.
You probably notice that V’s first friend is named Evey, with another of those pesky v’s in it, which isn’t a coincidence. The film takes painstaking methods to make sure nothing in the film is left to chance, and that there’s an inherent force that’s tying everything together. In critical circles we know that this force is the screenwriters, but the film wants us to believe there’s a higher power than V that’s guiding the whole process. It’s one of the more interesting aspects of the film, where the oppressing government claims godlessness elsewhere, while a revolutionary follows a train of what could be “divine” directions to attempt a change in the system. Some have also questioned that V’s attack makes the point that the religious base of society is inherently evil, while I read the film as saying that the use of religious ideals by the government, when coupled with their actions, is inherently evil; while the religion in and of itself is something that is more than necessary.
That is just one of the questions raised by V for Vendetta but, despite the fact it touched on all of these issues, I never was really sure if the brothers’ script was as well put together as it could have been. Like the critics I mentioned in the opening noted, there are many questions in the film that are left to interpretation. While I don’t see this as a bad thing, the film just seems a little disjointed at times due to its attempts to attack so many issues. There are several side stories, including two great flashbacks (one about a medical research facility, and one about the repression of sexuality that occurred when the government was changed), that work extremely well on their own. But the film’s pace is slowed greatly with each of these segues into other territories and times, and the film really felt like it needed a boost in getting to the overall point from time to time.
I haven’t mentioned much outside of the ideas of the film yet, so I’ll quickly throw out some of those details to make this seem like a review. Firstly, the film is shot extraordinarily well by McTeigue, especially for this being his first time at the helm. Outside of the pacing issues mentioned above, I thought he did a great job of developing a trademark look for the film and of framing the action scenes well. The script, as I’ve mentioned above, is very thorough and interesting, but I do think there needed to be a few more cuts made. It also features a lot of good dialogue that helps raise some of the more interesting points, and a good bit of humor too (V’s introductory speech had me rolling, and quite impressed).
The actors involved are mostly solid. Stephen Rea gets a ton of screen time as the cop investigating both V and Evey, and creates a character who’s easy to relate to as he tries to sift through the different characteristics of his suspect and his government. Stephen Fry gives a nice support in a mid-film section as a trusted coworker of Evey who’s also kind of subversive to the system, and John Hurt spits out a lot of well-done, angry speeches as the Big Brother-ish Chancellor. Portman is billed as the “star” for her turn as Evey, and does most of her work in the film well, despite botching the English accent pretty badly.
But the real star is Hugo Weaving (aka Mr. Smith from The Matrix), or at least his voice, as V. He rants and raves beautifully, usually coming to a good point, and has the perfect voice for the narrations he’s often asked to perform. He’s got a lot of incredibly tough lines and discussions (read as: A lot of long explanations with big words that sometimes leave the viewer scratching their head), but he handles the load more than admirably.
As a simple action film, V for Vendetta works thoroughly, right up to a breathtaking finale. It’s well acted, directed, and, for the most part, well written. When one considers the script’s ability to raise questions, even if they aren’t as ground breaking as they might want to be, you’ve got yourself the first must see movie event of this year.
V for Vendetta isn’t a perfect film in either its messages or its methods, but it’s close enough that I won’t complain.