Tuesday, December 07, 2010

V for Vendetta

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/29/06 w/ Additional Edits.

George Orwell's iconic novel 1984 foretold a story about the world being controlled by a totalitarian state where everything and everyone is being watched by a man named Big Brother. Today, Orwell's novel is more relevant through a variety of forms as people sees Orwell's tale right in their face with the chaos of the world. Many films, books, and pieces of music have referenced or used Orwell's idea into art including a graphic novel about a masked vigilante who fights a Fascist government in future Britain by Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd called V for Vendetta. The graphic novel became a cult favorite among comic book fans that was so beloved, it even caught the attention of Andy and Larry Wachowski, the creators of The Matrix film series. Though mixed reviews on the latter films of The Matrix chose for them to take a step back from the spotlight, it didn't stop their interest for V for Vendetta which they decided to make into their next project.

Screenplay by the Wachowski brothers with their first assistant director James McTeigue serving as the director, V for Vendetta is an action, political thriller about a futuristic, Fascist-run government in Britain that is threatened by a masked vigilante named V. With people being taken for their subversive ideals, a young woman is also taken where she eventually becomes V's only true ally. Straying away from the excess and mythology of The Matrix, McTeigue, the Wachowskis, and producer Joel Silver chose to create a smart, provocative, and entertaining film that brings enough character and action for a mass audience. Starring Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Stephen Rey, Stephen Fry, Sinead Cusack, Rupert Graves, and John Hurt. V for Vendetta is an excellent, smart action film that challenges the post-9/11 world.

It's futuristic London with years ahead of the 21st Century where everything is restricted and everyone is watched. Even curfew is at stake when a young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) is about to be raped until she is saved by a masked vigilante named V (Hugo Weaving). After saving her, he reveals to her of his ideas and who he is when he shows her what's about to happen since its hours away for November 5th, which is Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes was remembered as a man who tried to blow up the building of Parliament in the 17th Century only to be captured and hung. To commemorate this day, V blows up a building in front of the citizens of London and to Evey's horror.

The incident has caught the attention of the country's supreme Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) who is angry that his own control is now being under attack by an unknown terrorist. He calls for his council member Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) to take action. Meanwhile, another of Sutler's insiders, an inspector named Eric Finch (Stephen Rea) has been called to investigate what's going on with help from his assistant Dominic (Rupert Graves). With Evey continuing her work as a production assistant for her boss and TV talk show host, Gordon Deitrich (Stephen Fry), she gets called by him who blamed himself for having to call on her, especially on curfew. While working, V arrives to take charge of the network as he plans to strike again on the next Guy Fawkes Day as he plants a bomb on the TV network station. While trying to escape, Evey tries to help but gets knocked out as V takes her to his underground compound.

Watching the incident closely is Finch who sees that Evey has been captured and could be an accomplice of V. He follows her file closely which reveals that her parents were political activists at the time Sutler was in power shortly after an incident concerning a small plague. Learning that she's in V's underground compound filled with books and artwork, Evey learns from V about his own past which reveals his reasons for wearing a costume and a Guy Fawkes mask. She learned it is from a government lab experiment that went horribly wrong. While she doesn't like his violent approach, she does understand why he's rebelling as V is killing off several people who have burned and experimented on him. One of those targets was a former military commander-turned-TV talk show host named Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam). After reluctantly helping V to reach another of his targets, Evey leaves and hides out in the home of Deitrich.

Finch follows the evidence very closely as he learns that the terrorist known as V might be going after those in an incident following a failed lab experiment One of those people was a former doctor now a coroner named Delia Surridge (Sinead Cusack), who has been wracked with guilt over the incident and had been hiding. When Finch tries to contact her home, she had been found dead only to leave evidence for Finch to find out. Then, Finch begins to question as he and Dominic wonder if any of the incidents including the plagues, water poisoning, and everything else had been under the control of the government. With Evey staying at Deitrich's home, she learns that Deitrich too, has been hiding elements of art including an old copy of the Koran. When he decided to do a show where he lampoons Sutler and V, he gets into trouble as Evey's attempt to escape only gets her captured.

Immediately, Creedy interrogates Evey about the whereabouts and identity of V as she is tortured, abused, beaten, and gets her head shaved in order to reveal the information. While she refuses, she becomes more and more desperate until a letter from next door is revealed by a woman named Valerie (Natasha Wightman) who reveals to herself about her own life. The letters from next door give Evey more of a chance to live as she had escaped and finds herself returning to V. After a brief meeting, she briefly leaves to wait for November 5th while Finch's investigation gains some ground as he learns more about his own government's involvement. There, V goes for his final stand with the people of London watching.

While most films about Fascist governments, especially from a novel like 1984 reveal the idea of a dystopian world where everything is in chaos and leads to a rebellion. In the case for this film, especially in today's world, the film does speak in volumes while bringing a nice balance of no-holds-barred entertainment and bringing in a nice dose of political idealism. While the major flaw in the political part of the film is that the film is one-sided for the most part when it comes to the revolt and subversive ideas of V in destroying the government. It's understandable that V and the people of London are living in a totalitarian time where they're on watch and there's a curfew abroad with trying not to anger the government altogether. McTeigue does a great job in showing the examples of the dystopian world but he doesn't bring enough back-story on how the government party got built or how they came into power.

Still, for the most part, McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers do bring enough sense and humor into the political realm. One of the controversial themes about the film is terrorism. It's not that the film is supporting terrorism but in this post-9/11, it's likely that it won't stop. Terrorism is often inspired by some form of oppression where it's come to the point that it's attack and attack. One of the things that McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers have done isn't see the positive or negative aspect of terrorism but to try and find reasons for it. There, the result only brings more questions than answers. Especially when Evey tries to tell V that violence isn't sometimes the answer. Yet, Evey does come to the point sometimes, action does speak louder than words as she has to learn more about that process, especially when it involves about her own family and colleagues.

The political aspect of the film is wonderfully drawn out and smart despite its flaws which gives the film a nice break from the usual world of action. Still, the action sequences are done with great style which is similar to the approach of The Matrix but owes more to an 1938 film version of the Dumas novel The Count of Monte Cristo, which is referenced throughout the entire film. There's also a bit of 1984 in the political part of the film while the balance of drama, action, and political intrigue does bring a film that works on every level. The script and McTeigue's direction not only work with creating an amazing film but fleshing out real characters, especially in the development of Evey, V, and Finch. The great thing that the Wachowski brothers do is create real people in real situations while feeding off the world they live and hoping to do what they feel is right.

Helping McTeigue in his vision is late cinematographer Adrian Biddle (whom the film is dedicated to after his death in late 2005) who creates a wonderfully gray look for the film's night scenes while bringing out great, colorful lighting in a dreamy sequences involving the character of Valerie. Biddle's cinematography is amazing and wonderful exquisite to bring out the look and tone of the film as his work is amazing and he is a great cinematographer that will be missed.

Helping with the look of the film are production designer Owen Paterson plus art directors Marco Bittner Rosner, Sarah Horton, Sebastian T. Krawinkel, and set decorator Peter Walpole. The look of the film is distinct for the dystopian tone of the black, red flags of the government to the things that Deitrich and V have like the books, artwork, and stuff that fills around the room that suits their personalities. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon also does wonderful work in creating the Guy Fawkes look and the prison look that Evey takes on while presenting, a nice, militaristic look of the government.

Helping to piece the film together in the perspective of what's going on, especially in the third act is editor Martin Walsh who does some great cutting work and perspective cuts that gives a nice pacing and feel into the movie while it giving a nice, leisurely feel to the entire film. Sound designer Glenn Freemantle does some wonderful work with the sound to give the sense of suspense while visual effects supervisors Dan Glass and Matt Johnson help flesh out the look of the film plus the visual designs of the destruction that goes on the film. In the music department, composer Dario Marianelli brings great work in capturing the dystopian feel of the film along with its intense, action sequences. The film's soundtrack is very diverse with not just a bit of jazz cuts plus music from Tom Waits and Cat Power. Added to give the film a nice coda that plays well to the film’s politics is a classic tune from none other than, the Rolling Stones.

Finally, there's the film's superb cast that includes some great, minor performances from Clive Ashborn as Guy Fawkes, Billie Cook as a little girl in love with V's ideas, and Natasha Wightman as Valerie, who brings a nice presence to the film and provides the determination for Evey's change in political idealism. Rupert Graves does excellent work as Finch's partner Dominic. Sinead Cusack is excellent in a small role as a target for V as her performance brings a wonderful sense of importance to the plot while in her scene with V, she commands a dignity that is rarely scene in a confrontational scene. Roger Allam is excellent as this Rush Limbaugh-like talk show host who commands enough attention and demeanor that he does great work as a villain while Tim-Pigott Smith is also excellent as the devious Creedy.

Stephen Fry gives a wonderfully funny, sweet performance as Evey's talk-show superior whose love for art and comedy give Evey reasons to rebel against the government as Fry is a stand-out.John Hurt goes full circle from his performance as Winston Smith in a 1984 film version of 1984 to play a Big Brother-like leader in Adam Sutler. Hurt brings a great, terrorizing presence that is almost scary to watch as his rage in full close-up is enough to reveal the intensity of his performance. This is truly one of Hurt's best work as he stands out in full-form as Sutler.

Stephen Rea also does great supporting work as Eric Finch with his indifferent, observant performance who relies more on his instincts to try and see if things are wrong. Rea is perfect in his role as he tries to bring a perspective of what could be right or if he is doing the wrong thing. Hugo Weaving gives a wonderfully charming yet menacing performance as title role of V. Though most of his performance is in a mask, Weaving brings enough charm and wit to his role that doesn't make him feel like a terrorist but rather a vigilante. Weaving has great chemistry with Natalie Portman throughout the film while revealing his own vulnerability with his body language which brings depth into a role that doesn't require to reveal a lot of emotions. Fortunately, Weaving does masterful work in his performance.

Then, there's Natalie Portman (It's Po'tman motherfucka!), who gives probably one of the best performances of her career. While she falters a bit with the English accent, Portman's ability to display emotions and observance that overshadows whatever flaws she might have. Whereas George Lucas directs Natalie to display awful lines with stilted performances, McTeigue and the Wachowski brothers do great utilization of her talent. Natalie sells every moment of despair and anguish into her torture scenes while making her into a full character who goes from being a fearful young woman to a woman who no longer sees or feels fear but wants to do something. Even stripping down physically, Portman brings a presence that is unique and hypnotic that it's bar-none, one of her strongest. It's clear that in an age of young starlets trying to get the biggest paycheck or get the right movie for an Oscar nod. Natalie Portman is right now the Best Actress of Her Generation. If you don't think so, read this from comedy actor Andy Samberg:

Natalie you are a badass batch (hell yeah)

and I will pay for your dry cleaning when my shit gets in your shoe (what)

as for the drug use, well I can vouch for that

my dick is scared of you, girl

-In the Life of Natalie Portman by Natalie "MotherFucking" Po’tman

Overall, V for Vendetta is a fun, smart action film that has enough bang for the buck while presenting the audience with some smart, political insight. Though this film is not meant to inspire terrorism, it does question the intention of what terrorism is trying to say. It's just a fun movie to watch thanks to Joel Silver, James McTeigue, and the Wachowski brothers with great performances from Natalie "M.F." Po'tman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Fry, Stephen Rea, and John Hurt. In the end, for anyone wanting to celebrate fireworks and want a revolution, go see V for Vendetta.

(C) thevoid99 2010

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