01 April 2006
Style and suspense
V FOR VENDETTA (R13) Directed by James McTeigue ***½ Reviewed by Margaret Agnew.
Inspired by Right-wing Thatcherite Britain and IRA attacks in the 1980s, V For Vendetta, with its plot involving bombing buildings and the London Underground, looks eerily prescient.
Fans of The Matrix series will be excited that this futuristic film was written by the Wachowski brothers. Fans of the original comic, however, will be worried by the fact that cult author Alan Moore has (successfully) demanded to have his name removed from the film, but will probably want to see it anyway. And those readers of pictorial gossip mags who wondered why Natalie Portman shaved off all her hair will finally find out.
Personally, I saw the name Hugo Weaving and thought, that sounds intriguing.
However, Weaving's expressive caramel and gravel tones are all you get of the brilliant Australian actor who brought The Matrix trilogy's Agent Smith to such menacing life.
In V For Vendetta, Weaving is hidden under a long black wig and behind a permanently grinning Guy Fawkes mask, representing his pyromaniacal intentions towards the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.
In the near future, England has become a totalitarian state, while the US has been torn apart by civil war. A cowed and frightened England is ruled over, Big Brother-like, by fascist dictator Grand Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt in a brilliant piece of casting).
Codenamed V, (which could stand for Vendetta or perhaps something else…) our hero ½ or should that be anti-hero since he's a terrorist? ½ rescues pretty young Evey (Portman, showing off her acting chops) from the clutches of evil government police known as Fingermen, and treats her to a pyrotechnic display just after midnight of November 4.
Later, Evey, in turn, helps V as he makes an illegal national TV broadcast, and is whisked away to his secret lair full of forbidden objectionable material, in other words, art.
Meanwhile, one of the only honest coppers (Stephen Rea) left in London slowly uncovers the truth about V's mysterious background, and V helps Evey discover the truth about herself.
The great cast includes English TV staples Rupert Graves, Stephen Fry (in a rare serious role), Tim Pigott-Smith and Sinead Cusack. Wachowski brothers protege James McTeigue (assistant director on the Matrix films) was offered the chance to debut with a bang. Instead of Matrix "bullet-time", there's a touch of "sword-time" as V prefers the old-fashioned swordfight to guns.
Making allusions to everything from The Count of Monte Cristo and The Man in the Iron Mask to 1984 (or any number of celluloid dystopium), V For Vendetta has noble intentions, and largely succeeds, despite gaping plot-holes and huge demands on the audience's suspension of credulity.
This a stylish film that delivers on action and suspense, while demanding its audience think, too. There is the risk that some of the audience will think it's a load of bollocks, but many, especially those fond of conspiracy theories, will love it.