Brian Orndorf (briano)
'V for Vendetta' Explosive Filmmaking
It's certain to enrage, but it also entertains
The setting is Britain in the near future, where a fascist faction of government (lead by a foaming John Hurt) has risen to power, ruling with an iron fist, outlawing such things as the arts, homosexuality, and non-Christian religions. While breaking curfew one night, Evey (Natalie Portman) is accosted by government agents, only to be saved by V (Hugo Weaving), a shadowy figure clad in black and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. V is planning the ultimate uprising against the ruling power, and enlists a nervous Evey to assist him. Over the course of a year, Evey is taken on a wide-eyed journey from hapless nobody to an infamous supporter of V's violent revolution.
"V for Vendetta" comes from the stormy minds of graphic novel creators Alan Moore and David Lloyd, and seems like a truly unlikely choice for a cinematic reproduction. Though written in the mid-80s, the world we live in today makes a perfect match to the once startling picture of the future found in the original creation.
"Vendetta" is an intensely political picture, and doesn't back away from predicting a time where all civil liberties have been taken away, with a government that rules with bloodshed, and a media that uses fear and panic to control the masses. However, the focus of "Vendetta" is not on doling out messages to the already converted, as so many hot potato films do; the picture is a more artistically action bent, thrilling call to arms, filtered through the minds of Larry and Andy Wachowski, the creative team behind the "Matrix" series, and the screenwriters of "Vendetta.".
The Wachowskis are greatly enamored with V and his mission to use bedlam as a means to usurp control, and "Vendetta" is most attentive when the story stops to flesh out V and Evey, and their uniquely respectful relationship. The Wachowskis treat V initially as a superhero, clad with knives for killing and dreams of destroying London's Parliament building as an ode to the real Guy Fawkes — completing his work lost to the history books 400 years earlier.
Directed by James McTeigue (his first film after years as an assistant director), the early moments of the film have the same madcap energy and twisted sense of humor found in another anti-establishment piece: "A Clockwork Orange." However, the film soon falls in love with V, as McTeigue slowly dials down the satiric qualities of the script and replaces them with heavy emotional cues at the same time Evey is learning the depths of V's commitment and reasons for his mission.
While featuring another remarkable step in the flowering talent of Natalie Portman (she's marvelous here), the true achievement of the production is found in the V character. Only seen wearing the smiling Fawkes mask, McTeigue and Weaving do a remarkable job giving the role movement and expression in a character that is unable to communicate using traditional means.
The B story in "Vendetta" follows Finch (Stephen Rea), a member of the London police who is hot on V's tail, who finds himself questioning his superiors and government as V rises to power. Taking up the film's midsection, the Finch subplot grinds the festivities to a halt. The Wachowskis have no clear idea how to make this gumshoe aspect to the story pop as much as V's arc, and the inclusion of Finch feels more like a necessary evil (to maintain the allure of the source material) than any organic addition in V's journey. While well played by Rea, the film aches to return to Evey and V at every turn, neutering McTeigue's efforts to implement a procedural drama amidst all the bombs, bullets, and self-actualization.
McTeigue has better results with the film's "Sally Simpson" moment, where Evey, incarcerated for her allegiance to V, finds a note in her cell written on toilet paper that recalls the journey of a young lesbian who was destroyed by the government. It's a beautiful, profoundly touching catalyst for Evey, and McTiegue and Portman nail the sequence with pointed grace. It gives the switch Evey makes from confused and scared to bitter and purposed all the conviction and importance the Finch storyline lacks.
For the final act, McTeigue lets the Wachowski side take over for a bit: there's a knife fight with V and the cops that is a little too close to the "Matrix" for comfort, using slo-mo and CG to trace the path of V's deadly blades as they slice and dice. It's fun, but visually unlike anything else in the picture making the sequence feel like something used as bait to find financing for this complicated film.
McTeigue rebounds with his climax, flabbergasting with its bluntness and exploding with operatic fury. Of course, there are nagging questions "Vendetta" fails to answer, such as what happens after the satisfaction of anarchy is washed away by reality? But that's missing the point.
"Vendetta" detonates in the final moments out of sheer frustration and victory, embracing that idealized moment where the populace is finally taken seriously by its rulers. The film recalls "Fight Club" in the idea that utter destruction is the only way to snap people to attention, and while that proposal might come off as irresponsible, it eerily reflects the world we live in today. When it chooses to be, "V for Vendetta" is a gangbusters and incisive indictment of the scary direction this big blue ball is headed in.