In a fictional, totalitarian Britain, an enigmatic, masked vigilante known only as “V” (Weaving) deploys terrorist acts to fight for freedom against the corrupt fascist state. When V rescues a young girl, Evey (Portman), the two form a mysterious bond, and she becomes a part of his violent revolution…
RELEASED MARCH 30
STARRING Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry
DIRECTOR James McTeigue
SCREENWRITERS The Wachowski brothers
RUNNING TIME 132 minutes
"And destruction after all,” writer Graham Greene famously mused, “is a form of creation.” Or, in the immortal words of Christian Slater’s trigger-happy antagonist in Heathers: “Chaos is great! Chaos is what killed the dinosaurs, darling!” Such aphorisms inform the best of art, and occasionally – though it’s extremely rare – they sneak unsuspected into mainstream cinema. And so, with its acts of heroic terrorism, unapologetic postcard-icon bombings and fierce anti-authoritarian agenda, the bravest, most uncompromising film in recent memory isn’t some boorish agit-doco or lofty art-house whimper: it’s V For Vendetta, a triumph of delirious anarchy disguised as a big-budget popcorn picture. It doesn’t get much more subversive than that.
Written pre-Matrix by the Wachowskis (all is hereby forgiven for those disgraceful sequels, boys… well, almost), Vendetta was adapted from the 1983 graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, at the time a thinly veiled response to Britain’s Thatcher administration. For its freedom fighter anti-hero the comic drew inspiration from Guy Fawkes, the 17th-century conspirator who planned to detonate London’s Houses Of Parliament, and V’s catchphrase – “Remember, remember, the fifth of November” – comes from a nursery rhyme celebrating Fawkes’s capture. It was also the film’s original release date, before events in London caused it to promptly vanish. Given the touchy nature of the subject matter, Warners’ decision to green-light the project is a daring one. The totalitarian England depicted in the film may be comic book-heightened, but the parallels between V’s crusade against state oppression and our current climate of suppressed liberties are hard to miss. And where to begin on those sequences that explicitly involve the London transport system…
Whether or not this potentially controversial film lights any fires is another question. Warners’ Matrix-lite marketing campaign is sure to lure the opening weekend kids, but it’s also misleading, for Vendetta isn’t an action picture in the expected sense. Tense and compelling though it may be, the film’s thrills come more from character and dialogue than they do chase sequences, CGI or set piece violence. There’s something memorably electric going on when V’s defiantly intoning “Beneath this mask there is an idea… and ideas are bulletproof” can elicit the kind of awe that a spectacular fight scene could never hope to attain. Vendetta’s anxious energy is driven in part by anticipating how far the filmmakers will go – just when you expect it to soften, the film surprises by taking a dramatic curve. You may have to pinch yourself and wonder, Is this really a major studio release I’m watching here?
In what is one of the screen’s great masked performances, Hugo Weaving is more than just the star, he’s the dark, galvanising soul of the film. It takes a certain calibre of actor to project delicate emotion through a perpetual porcelain smirk, and Weaving makes us believe in both the power of his betrayal and his quest. As Evey, Portman exhibits a tough vulnerability that hasn’t shone since her brilliant breakout in The Professional. And special mention has to go to Stephen Rea, whose complicated turn as a split-allegiance law enforcer shades in the moral grey areas with a human dimension.
Full credit to director McTeigue, too, who proves that he’s no mere Wachowski clone, the former first AD (he served on The Matrix and Star Wars: Episode II) fluent in both the action and character dimensions of the story.
All that and one of the most rousing endings since Fight Club; it may just make you want to step out of the cinema and blow something up… for liberty, and, ah, justice, of course….
A thrilling and provocative graphic novel adaptation.