V for Vendetta

V for VendettaSynopsis: Freedom! Forever!

Who is the man who hides his scarred face behind a mask? Hero or madman? Liberator or oppressor? Who is V – and who will join him in his daring plot to destroy the totalitarian regime that dominates his nation?

From the creators of The Matrix trilogy comes V For Vendetta, an arresting and uncompromising vision of the future based on the powerfully subversive graphic novel. Natalie Portman stars as Evey, a working-class girl who must determine if her hero has become the very menace he’s fighting against. Hugo Weaving plays V – a bold, charismatic freedom fighter driven to exact revenge on those who disfigured him. And Stephen Rea portrays the detective leading a desperate quest to capture V before he ignites a revolution. The stakes rise. The tension electrifies. The action explodes. Whose side are you on? In V’s world, there is no middle ground.

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V for Vendetta 8.0

eyelights: Hugo Weaving. the political aspect. the slick style of the picture.
eyesores: Natalie Portman’s accent. the unresolved or unexplained elements of the script. the slick style of the picture.

“A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having!”

‘V for Vendetta’ is a political sci-fi thriller based on the ’80s landmark comic book series by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. It takes place in the future, set in Great Britain under a totalitarian regime, and it features a freedom fighting protagonist dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask.

This mystery man, who is only known as “V”, has the intention of blowing up the Parliament buildings and tearing down the leaders of the current government, who sunk their clutches into power under questionable circumstances. His goal is to “free” the population of Britain.

In this adaptation, the United States have been in chaos for decades and Britain has been kept under control by its Chancellor and his supporters ever since a 2006 viral outbreak. Blamed on religious fanatics, this incident became an excuse for the Chancellor to strip freedoms in the name of security.

In the years since the outbreak, anyone who did not conform were arrested, imprisoned and tortured to death. Strict curfews were put in place and enforced by the regime’s Fingermen, and any opposition or criticism of the government was immediately quelled. Conformity and silence have been the order of the day.

Released in 2004, it’s painfully obvious that ‘V for Vendetta’ was designed as a commentary on the then-state of affairs in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center. From that perspective, one can admire it for the courage it displayed at a time when criticism wasn’t even remotely tolerated.

However, the film lacks subtlety – it discusses and promotes its ideas with all the finesses of a club. Granted, North American audiences frequently need to be bludgeoned out of their complacency, but one can’t help but wish that ‘V for Vendetta’ stoked fires instead of switching on the electric fireplace.

I don’t remember if Alan Moore’s original work was more subtle, but I do recall its warts; Moore has always had mildly juvenile developments and resolutions in even his more notable works. But I recall that he took the time to truly make us “feel” the situation at hand – unlike the movie version.

Of course, his work was largely different in intention:

Originally concerned with a post-Thatcher Great Britain, V’s cause was anarchy, not freedom. Here, V was transformed into a prototypical Hollywoodian anti-hero – albeit a slightly demented one. In the original book, V did not have the same concern for human life as he does here; the cause was everything.

Alan Moore came out against the film:

“It has been “turned into a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country…. It’s a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy of someone with American liberal values standing up against a state run by neoconservatives – which is not what the comic V for Vendetta was about.”

Many significant details were subsequently changed to fit the filmmakers’ vision, including the destruction of the Parliament buildings, the date on which the attacks take place and even the fate of some of the secondary characters. There are also political subplots sorely lacking from the final picture.

Of course, this is typical of any adaptation: rare is it that one will find a work that fully retains its flavour in the course of transitioning from page to screen. And one could say that, given the era it was made in, it was appropriate. Still, one would understand why a work so politically-charged couldn’t be morphed without criticism.

After all, bereft of its original tone, the movie version of ‘V for Vendetta’ doesn’t inspire change out of necessity, but more as a reaction to a general, unchannelled disgruntlement. And we aren’t at any point explained the reasons for the masses’ uprising – we are merely left to assume that it is the same as our hero’s.

The simplicity of the filmmakers’ approach is evident in the way that Evey is (de)programmed/converted – something which should have been emotionally grueling for the audience. Instead, we are treated to mere interrogations with faceless individuals, but no repercussions aside from a haircut and isolation in a cold cell. We don’t actually feel her terror and/or hopelessness.

The whole thing was poorly-staged, mind you. The interrogations showed the inquisitors as shadowed faces, in a way which suggested that the filmmakers were trying to hide something from the audience. So, instead of being immersed in the moment, we are spending our time trying to figure out the scene’s secrets.

(And don’t even get me started on the final confrontation, which involves a dozen Fingermen unloading their guns on V – and yet he still stands. He is only a man, and yet… he stands. Even wearing a chest plate, wouldn’t someone think of aiming for his limbs or his head? Someone? Anyone? And how could he retain his agility after such an attack?)

The picture’s lack of subtlety is the making of its own defeat.

The passage of time was also very poorly expressed. Given that weeks on end pass between scenes, why is it that people look the same throughout the movie? Evey, for one, should have had longer hair, since she’d been in captivity for so long – and also later because so much time passes before her return. And yet… she doesn’t change.

Evey’s transformation only seems to go skin deep in the film version. Whereas in the original, she is initially weak, a victim, a person completely unaware politically, this version of Evey had some basic understanding of politics and had merely repressed it. All she needed was a quick jog to bring it up to the surface. Apparently.

I say “apparently”, because we don’t feel Evey’s fire at any point. She is particularly vacant for an individual who is going through so much in such a short amount of time. It doesn’t help matters whatsoever that Natalie Portman was utterly miscast as Evey (I’m a fan of hers, but she was only going through the motions here).

Her British accent, in particular, was horrific. I’m no expert, but it seemed to me like she was speaking with a numb tongue, not as though she owned the language. She apparently hired the same dialectologist that helped Gwyneth Paltrow perfect her English accent. Um… I think that this speaks for itself.

Hugo Weaving was hired to bring life to V after James Purefoy, who shot four weeks of film in the role, left the production over creative differences. He does a very good job of giving the character life, but he is obviously hindered by the costume, which covers his whole body – much like David Prowse was with Darth Vader.

He does a credible job of doing the action sequences, but it’s veritably impossible to know where a stuntman took his place and when he was in the part, given the costume. There was also some directorial trickery on hand to help, with some scenes being performed in slow-motion by the stuntmen to give the illusion that V was quick.

Another great bit of casting is John Hurt as the Chancellor. Not only does he lend the right authoritarian resolve and creepiness to the character, but it’s absolutely ironic that he would play a fascist given his role as Winston Smith in the film version of George Orwell’s ‘1984’. That alone is relish enough to make the movie worth seeing.

There are a number of other exceptional actors, including Stephen Fry, who give the film more footing than it might deserve. With a weaker cast, it would no doubt have suffered tremendously from it many self-inflicted wounds. But, aside from a few unfortunate miscasts, ‘V for Vendetta’ has a very good pedigree indeed.

However, it’s far too Hollywood-ized for my taste. It should have been far grittier, less glossy. Although I absolutely love the look of the picture, it feels entirely inappropriate for the material, for the setting – which is in a spiritual dark place, in a country that is buried under decades of hatred and internal rot.

But this is a Wachowski production, and everything in ‘V for Vendetta’ feels processed for mass consumption, from its message to the camera shots to the lighting to the action to the dialogues. And, of course, there is a farcical romance blooming between the two leads!!! Why do they always have to fall in love in American films?

Beyond appearances, behind the mask, ‘V for Vendetta’ is a different story from what Alan Moore had envisioned. In this iteration, it’s a vacuous call-to-arms for a public so docile that it considers revolution a brand, not a cause. The filmmakers likely had good intentions but, by playing by Hollywood’s rules, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Admittedly, ‘V for Vendetta’ remains an exciting, stylish actioner, but anyone making claims of its depth need only look beneath the Guy Fawkes mask to see that it is nothing of the sort. It is a sheep in wolf’s clothing, a product more than an idea – which is ironic given that the film’s purported hero has much stronger convictions:

“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”

Clearly, this ‘V for Vendetta’ is merely bullet-resistant.

Post scriptum: Did you know that, on a clock with hour and minute hands, the hands form to make the letter V at 11:05 – which in turn are the month and day of November 5th, Guy Fawkes Night. Say what you will about Alan Moore’s famed eccentricities, but he has his moments of genius, he does…

Date of viewing: November 17, 2013

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