Thursday, April 13, 2006

V for Vendetta [2006]

[Now Experiencing] [Film]

My girlfriend and I went to see V for Vendetta last night, and were glad to find that it met and exceeded all our expectations.

V for Vendetta is based on the graphic novel/comic series of Alan Moore, also known as the creator of the groundbreaking Watchmen, the excellent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (horrible film adaptation notwithstanding), and a 30-odd issue run of Swamp Thing that remains among the best comics I've ever read.

The story of V for Vendetta postulates a dystopian United Kingdom of the near future, where in the wake of terrorism, war, and pandemic, a dictatorial government has risen to power. The media is strictly controlled, the population are routinely surveilled through taps and security sweeps, and the line between difference and crime is increasingly hard to find. Homosexuality is outlawed, possession of the Koran is a criminal offence, protestors are arrested by police, and the offenders invariably vanish into the system, arrested and held without charge.

In the midst of this, a figure calling itself "V" (Hugo Weaving: The Matrix, Priscilla Queen of the Desert), its face hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, begins a campaign of political violence. On November 5, V blows up the London court buildings, and then seizes control of the emergency TV network to advise the people of the United Kingdom that something is terribly wrong with their country, and that if they wish to do something about their future, they should meet him in one year's time on the grounds of the Houses of Parliament to forge a new country.

Into all this is swept Evy Hammond (Natalie Portman: The Professional, Star Wars Episodes I-III), a television intern whose family of political activists have become victims of the current regime. In the course of the year, from November 5 to November 5, she meets V in a variety of places and circumstances and learns some of the background behind this revolutionary's crusade.

I should say that as at writing this I have not read the comic; it's on my shelf, but I've delayed opening it until after I'd seen the film. In the event that the film was only average, I didn't want my enjoyment of what there was of it to be tarnished by the superior original version. Also, my fears were raised when Alan Moore chose to remove his name from the film. Granted, by all accounts Alan Moore doesn't quite live on the same plane of existence as the rest of humanity, but surely he had some reason? As it turns out, though, neither he nor I had cause to worry. The film is fantastic.

With a screenplay written by the Wachowksi brothers (Bound, The Matrix) you may have expected something along the lines of their earlier films - and indeed, V for Vendetta does have the Wachowskis' keen feel for the structure and pacing of the media of both comics and films. A clever eye can spot the original breaks between issues, whether or not you've read the source material. Much like the Matrix movies, the Wakowskis have broken down the story into a series of seamless vignettes, each possessing their own pacing and atmosphere, yet connected as a coherent whole almost unnoticaby to the casual viewer. Thus the action moves from vigilante violence in the backstreets to a morally ambiguous tale of kidnapping and terrorism to a tense conspiracy thriller and finally to an epic tale of revolution without at any stage lOing its grip on the viewer.

However, the film is directed by Australian James McTeigue, and bears little resemblance to the Wachowskis' normal kinetic hyperlucid visual style. It instead takes on a claustrophobic and submerged feel accentuated by diffused lighting, tight framing, and intercutting taken or based upon modern political news footage. This is McTeigue's first solo directorial outing, having previously worked as a first assistant director on such films as the Matrix Trilogy, Star Wars Episode II, and Looking for Alibrandi.

The actors are worth commenting on. Natalie Portman returns to top form after her unfortunate experiences with the Star Wars prequels. Hugo Weaving's physical acting is underused behind V's cloak and mask, but his voice fits the role perfectly, rendering V's quote-filled dialogue highly memorable. A strong supporting cast including Stephen Fry, Stepehn Rea and John Hurt round out the performance. They collectively lend a convincing and engrossing air to material that would otherwise occasionally threaten to stray into melodrama or diatribe. Stepen Rea in particular does wonders to elevate beleagured detective Finch above his role as a narrative device by injecting the character with a wonderful mix of sadness, humanity, and dry humour.

This is a political film. No, more strongly than that - it's a very political film. And nor is it safe politics - it espouses a philosophy which is familiar in neither modern Western conservative nor liberal thought. It is a film that says that violence can be a legitimate tool of political expression, that suggests that acts of civil terrorism can not be condemned out of hand, and urges immediate and specific revolutionary acts in the context of our very real society. But behind and above these, it is a film about ideas - about the consequences of having ideas you are afraid to think, about possibilities you are scared to articulate, about philosophies that are not open to debate. It is a film that will make you think about the state of modern politics, no matter what your political creed, and the mark of its success is that if you are like me, at about the 20 minute mark of the film you'll be thinking, "I can't believe this film got past the censors."

It may not be a film you'll want to see twice - but it's not a film that needs to be seen twice, such is its immediate impact. A great movie and a great adaptation, and whether you decide you like it or loathe it it's one you should at least make the effort to see.

1 comment:

Jey said...

I found it incredibly moving and inspiring, loved the queer angles.
Portman's a hottie with a shaved head - I don't care what Andrew says!
I recommend it to anyone who has a revolutionary bone in their body.