V for Vendetta, directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowski Brothers (of The Matrix fame), is an endlessly ballsy comic book adaptation that is sly and smart – something that more and more comic book films are becoming these days. The film is bound to offend those sensitive to our current climate of color-coded warnings, taking off shoes at the airport, and paranoia in general with its nonchalant approach to the definition of terrorism, but that’s part of the reason why it works. It digs deeper than one would expect and will certainly spark debate about the power of government and the rebellion that many of us feel on the inside.
It’s the near future and Great Britain is under a constant state of martial law for its “own protection.” A Big Brother-like government runs everything, citizens have a curfew, and anyone who violates it will likely face danger from unsavory characters or corrupt cops. Such a fate is almost met one night by Evey (Portman), but she is saved from certain rape and murder by V (Weaving), a masked and smooth-talking vigilante who is carefully plotting a revolution against the maniacal government. V takes Evey under his wing as the government launches an all-out search for him. V hopes to utilize an uprising by the people to overthrow the government and redefine the term “terror.”
Postponed because of the London bombings last year, V for Vendetta is not the kind of political film that most are accustomed to. V acts on his threats like the most determined of terrorists do. His likable personality and well-educated demeanor make him a sympathetic character, and that is the film’s most haunting portrayal. The people are so angered by the government that they join his cause without hesitation, marching down the streets wearing the identical mask he does. This renders images of a dark future that no one wants to think about, but isn’t as far out of the realm of reality as we’d like to think. V for Vendetta is at its most potent when it reveals its big ideas and shows the suffocating power of a mass uprising.
The performances are solid throughout, led by a completely masked Hugo Weaving as V. The character is one of the more interesting of comic book lore because of his lengthy, poetic speeches, all of which Weaving delivers with precision and grace. Natalie Portman, whom I think is the only person on Earth who snags headlines for months on end because of her baldness for this film, is very strong as Evey. Her transformation throughout the film is seamless, leading up to a confrontation with V that strikes a surprisingly resonant emotional chord. The supporting cast of Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, and John Hurt, among others, is stellar.
Like other films of late (namely Syriana), V for Vendetta is being inaccurately marketed as a nonstop action extravaganza when in fact it is actually a leisurely paced drama with two solid set pieces. While it is overlong at 132 minutes, I found it interesting, maddening, and even thought-provoking. I can’t say I was expecting the latter. If the film does have a glaring omission to the narrative, it’s that very little back-story is given to the totalitarian government. They’re evil, plain and simple, but with little explanation.
V for Vendetta is the first big film of 2006, and I think most are in for a rude awakening after buying into the trailers. This is the most political film in years and unexpectedly so. It’s well-made and engrossing, which alone propels it past most of the offerings so far this year. Your politics and appetite for thought-provoking cinema will dictate your ultimate opinion, but in a way it’s nice to know that a film this radical can still get made.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 132 Minutes
Rating: R for strong violence and some language.
Theatrical Release: March 17, 2006
Directed by: James McTeigue
Written by: Andy Wachowski & Larry Wachowski. Characters by Alan Moore & David Lloyd.
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Piggot-Smith