Title: V for Vendetta
Director: James McTeigue
Writers: Larry and Andy Wachowski, Based on a story created by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Distributed By: Warner Bros.
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, John Hurt, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry
Release Date: March 17, 2006
MPAA: Rated R
Today is Monday October 31, Halloween. So I tried to think of a Halloween-specific comic book movie to review… and I came up with nothing. However, I did decide to focus on costumes or masks, in honor of the tradition of dressing up for the holiday. But that doesn’t really narrow it down when addressing superhero movies, now does it? But, then I realized there is one particular comic book and subsequent movie that features a mask that has become an icon all its own…
And since November 5th is fast approaching and will arrive before the next Movie Mondays article is published on November 7th, I’ve decided to commemorate both Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night with a review of V for Vendetta.
The movie, much like its comic book counterpart, is the story of an oppressive fascist government regime being systematically taken down by the monstrous byproduct of their genetic experimenting, and the anarchy he inspires in his fellow citizenry.
The movie shifts settings from London in the 1980s where Alan Moore illustrated the government under Margaret Thatcher as a fascist dictatorship, to a London of the not-too-distant future, where the government is a fascist dictatorship. The dictator, named Adam Susan in the comic, is renamed Adam Sutler (a combination of Susan and Hitler) and has seemingly successfully rounded up and killed most of the non-Christian, non-heterosexual, and otherwise unfavorable Brits, forcing the remaining few to hide who they really are, and rules over them through fear and force. The government has a strict curfew in force, and control over the news and media, with corruption in every part of the system.
The movie begins with our heroine Evey breaking curfew, and summarily being apprehended by the local police, called “Fingermen” because the Police Force is known as “The Finger.” Instead of arresting her or charging her, they’re going to beat her and rape her. It is here that our heroine meets our hero, V. He subdues the villainous police and shows off his eloquent mastery of theatricality, prose, verse, and the English language in general, with an introduction that makes use of the letter “V” no less than 52 times. Then he sets off an explosion, completely obliterating the Old Bailey. Evey and V are rather expertly played by Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving.
It is during this segment and the following that we are introduced to all of our major players in rather short order. Tim Pigott-Smith, Stephen Fry, Stephen Rea, Roger Allam, and John Hurt all give outstanding performances. Pigott-Smith is perfectly slimy as the creepy, opportunistic Creedy. Rea and Fry perform their roles with conviction and heart, and even though the characters are altered from their original comic book counterparts, they still serve their purpose well enough.
But a stroke of genius comes from the decision to cast legendary John Hurt as the Fascist Dictator. The heroic figure of the film adaptation of 1984 turned on its head as the figurehead of the oppressive regime. And what makes it all the more amazing, is that Hurt delivers the performance with intensity and raw ferocity that makes you believe his character truly thinks he’s acting in the country’s best interests, which is something Alan Moore really tried to impress upon his readers in the original comic.
The movie itself leaves out a lot of the comic, but still manages to play out fairly faithfully, as far as overall thematic elements. Which is to say, in the opinion of this reviewer, it nails the feel and theme of the comic. It is true that this movie leaves out about half the story. But that’s mostly in the form of minor characters and sub-plots that, while they added an extra level of depth and development to the original story, could be truncated or omitted to avoid spreading the narrative of the film too thin. Sure it leaves out things like the sub-plots of Conrad and Helen Heyer, or Derek and Rose Almond. But it leaves in elements like Bishop Lilliman and Dr. Delia Surridge.
The musical score leaves a bit to be desired overall, but manages to shine through in a couple key ways. Notably, building tension, and accentuating the emotional plight of Evey or fellow detainee and victim Valerie Page, in quite possibly the most poignant part of the film and comic book.
One of the more impressive elements of the film is also a crucial aspect of the film: V himself. Since we get no glimpse as to the real V or what he used to be, and in fact both film and comic intentionally seek to avoid that subject as much as possible, we are left to receive his dramatis personae. His mask…which represents what V really is… an Idea. The artful pantomime provided by Hugo Weaving (and a few scenes from James Purefoy before he stepped out of the production), the music playing at a barely audible level, the lighting, and camera angle all come together to provide expression to an expressionless face.
The only real negative comments I can muster toward this film are the following, and one might earn me some death-threats from some of my readers.
One is simply an acknowledgement of the limitations of the medium, in regards to how much information this film had to omit. The other is about one of the more crucial scenes of the film. Evey’s transformation and parallel baptism. I feel that they rushed her acceptance of what V did to her in the film (it’s a longer adjustment period in the comic) to such an extent that it no longer seems feasible or plausible that she should have decided to forgive him. It’s just too fast. Also, V was experimented on, nearly killed, had to watch those around him die, and eventually freed himself amidst a fiery inferno of his own making. Evey was tortured for a short period of time, and then released and stood in the rain after having a panic attack. But the slow-motion, sweeping cameras, flashbacks, and parallel editing are all designed to make us feel they are on the same level as far as what they’ve experienced. I don’t buy it.
Overall, despite a few shortcomings, the film is a stellar piece of storytelling.
Co-creator and artist David Lloyd had this to say:
“It’s a terrific film. The most extraordinary thing about it for me was seeing scenes that I’d worked on and crafted for maximum effect in the book translated to film with the same degree of care and effect…. If you happen to be one of those people who admires the original so much that changes to it will automatically turn you off, then you may dislike the film—but if you enjoyed the original and can accept an adaptation that is different to its source material but equally as powerful, then you’ll be as impressed as I was with it.”
I wholeheartedly agree. From a critical analysis of the film as an adaptation of the comic, I’d give it a 6 or 7. But as a film in general, overall, I’d give it a solid 9 out of 10. If you’ve seen it once or a thousand times, be sure to watch it again, and if you’ve managed to let this movie slip under your radar, go check it out.
And above all, “Remember the Fifth of November” and enjoy your Guy Fawkes Night… I know I will.