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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "V For Vendetta" (2005)

“V For Vendetta” marks the first of many films this year that will either directly address, subtly reference, satirize or allude in some way to post-9/11 angst and the War on Terrorism. Though it is based on a graphic novel (which I have not read), it’s fused with ideas that come directly from today’s headlines and plays them out almost through the eyes of a conspiracy buff. The idea that our mainstream multiplexes will be bombarded with more idealistic, morally gray and confrontational material looks to me like a sign that Hollywood is finally latching onto the idea that a good movie can be inspired by today’s news just as easily as anything on Nick At Nite. I don’t expect it to last.

But I’ll enjoy it while it does and you probably will too, in this case. “V For Vendetta,” political commentary aside, is a smart, fun and emotionally involving story that borrows from countless movies, books and TV shows before it. Like the “Matrix” movies, “Vendetta” plays like a checklist of references from “Brazil” to “Fight Club”; from “Phantom of the Opera” to “Max Headroom”; from “1984” to “BatmanandRoboCop.” And there’s plenty more I’m forgetting, I’m sure. At its center lies a character whose actions cause the audience not to cheer, but to ponder. Is this a terrorist? If so, where does he rank? Above or below the politician?

V For Vendetta” takes place after a war that has turned England into an oppressive state. Within the crevices of this totalitarian structure lurks a masked vigilante known only as V (Hugo Weaving), whose sole aim is to ignite a revolution that will overthrow the tyranny that has overtaken Great Britain. One night, he ends up rescuing a woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) from the secret police who harass her. There’s nothing secretive about Evey’s life. She’s an average woman thrown into extraordinary circumstances, which leads her further into V’s world. Soon, he takes her under his wing into his underground lair called the Shadow Gallery, not unlike Kane’s Xanadu.

Meanwhile, England’s body count has been growing exponentially as government officials warn its citizens that a single terrorist has been running rampant. The intensely charismatic V certainly has a vendetta as the killings become mysteriously linked and somehow personal to him. His victims range from a megalomaniacal talk show host (not unlike Bill O’ Reilly) to a fetishistic priest, among others, all of them connected somehow. Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea), who has the thankless task of tracking down the elusive V, seems helpless as he must take orders from the ruthless Prime Minister Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Evey tries to uncover more about V and his past, as she becomes his close ally in the morally ambiguous fight against England’s current oppressive state.

That’s its story in a nutshell, for “Vendetta” is a movie that takes countless unpredictable turns. The Wachowski Brothers’ screenplay, like their previous efforts, has more to do with ideas and language than in topping their last action sequence. The philosophical weight of V and Evey’s actions don’t get shortsighted. The movie often asks at what point does a vigilante become a heartless terrorist? And at what point does a terrorist become the very thing they’re fighting against? The questions get asked and sometimes answered through the Wachawski’s trademark wordy banter that forces the audience to pay attention to every word.

The movie also succeeds in creating a story of two characters who need one another, but what makes this such a miraculous feat is that we never see V’s face. I have never really cared for characters who wear masks and therefore express no emotion, but Hugo Weaving’s carefully mannered delivery and body language makes it work. It works almost in the same way the love story between King Kong and Naomi Watts worked. We believe this character has more than one dimension because Weaving believes it, as does Portman, who again proves to be the best actress of her generation. Her character undergoes a realistic transformation here that doesn’t go drastically over the top. It’s a subtle shift from one ideal to the next, but always mindful of her past. It’s not as superficial as good-girl-gone-bad. It’s an interesting girl getting more and more interesting.

It won’t be hard for audiences to read between the movie’s lines, but it’s hard to imagine an audience not enjoying themselves anyway. The movie doesn’t take a moral high ground in a way that makes its intentions completely clear. Time will tell if audiences will be hip to that, particularly the crowd that shows up to see what they think will be just another cool action movie. “Vendetta” isn’t about being cool, but about being concerned with who we’ve become and where we’re headed. It has too much on its mind to be cool. It may not know exactly what it wants to say, but at least it has the ambition to want to say something.

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