|V for Vendetta (2006)
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Rupert Graves, Stephen Rea, John Hurt
Director: James McTeigue
There’s a movie in here somewhere, one that tells the shocking tale of a power-hungry politician who drove a country to fascist isolationism, and the one man with the guts to stand up to him, a movie that combines thrilling action sequences with a complex political potboiler storyline. But “V for Vendetta,” sadly, does not tell the tale it seems capable of telling. The fascist angle doesn’t inspire any righteous indignation, and the terrorist angle is not the fiery revolutionary rhetoric it thinks it is.
The story begins in futuristic England, which is under the totalitarian rule of Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) and sports a motto of “Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith.” Gays, Muslims, and protestors of any kind are captured, tortured and killed. Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), walking the streets after the government-imposed curfew, is stopped by three street cops who plan to have their way with her. She’s saved by a man (Hugo Weaving) wearing a Guy Fawkes mask (Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament in 1605) who quickly dispatches the cops. The man, after a lengthy – and tedious – exercise in alliteration, tells Evey that she can simply call him “V.” He then takes her to the top of a building, where they can watch his destruction of a statue called the Old Bailey at the stroke of midnight while Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” plays on the government’s sound system. Chancellor Sutler has the overture banned the next day.
Unfortunately for Evey, the government gets a shot of her with V, and assumes that she conspired in the bombing. After another chance encounter with V (I won’t reveal the details), he takes her in to stay with him, since she is now an enemy of the state. Meanwhile, weary Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) begins to investigate V, Evey and the people that are turning up dead at the hands of V, and discovers some disturbing coincidences.
One of the movie’s many problems is that it tries so hard to be witty that it fails to realize that the true soul of wit is brevity. V’s first monologue contains so many V-words that I was reminded of Merovingian, the pompous blowhard from “The Matrix Reloaded.” Dear God, he’s going to bore people to death! Wouldn’t a man like V be the type to make his point using as few words as possible? It would seem so, yet all he does is talk, talk, talk. It’s like that saying: if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit, and the Wachowski Brothers, who are the screenwriters and executive producers, are still in bullshit mode. Enough already, guys. Also, work on those action sequences (there’s really only one); they can’t even hold up to “The Matrix,” never mind the sequels.
For doing all of his work behind a mask (yes, all of it), Weaving fares reasonably well. It’s a tough line to straddle, between not moving your mask at all and moving too much, and Weaving finds the right balance, though when he speaks, one can’t help but picture Agent Smith, sunglasses and everything, behind the mask. Portman goes from fetching lass to 13-year-old on the verge of puberty the second her head gets shaved. She does pull off the accent, though. Hurt completely overdoes it as the Chancellor, but I think that was the point. Every time Rea is onscreen, I am reminded of how little I see him in the movies, and how I’d like to see him more. And I would be remiss if I did not mention the movie’s ending, which bears an uncanny resemblance to “The Professional,” thus confirming the awesome power of the redemptive love of Natalie Portman.
There were several unanswered questions about V’s life. How was he able to steal so much from the government and never get caught? Where does he get his classified information? Did he have a job? Did he have any money, or did he steal everything he owned? The V we see is a man of limitless means, even though there is no real explanation for any of it. I also won’t get into the attempt to create a parallel between Chancellor Sutler and George W. Bush (the original graphic novel was a critique of Thatcher-era England), but I will say that this movie does a better job at explaining how people become willing to die for a cause than “Syriana” or even indie favorite “Paradise Now” were able to convey. As for the whole titillating idea of rooting for the terrorist, the movie is nowhere near as subversive as it might think, though the scene where a fellow cabinet member toys with Finch about the methods he’d use to challenge Finch’s “loyalty” is unnerving. Still, this government is gleefully corrupt in a way that liberals would never dream of accusing the Bush administration of being. Any citizen would want to see it taken down, not just the hippie protestors.
The Wachowski Brothers have given themselves a convenient ‘out’ clause if “V for Vendetta” doesn’t work (and it doesn’t); they can point the finger at first-time director James McTeigue, making his debut after serving as the first assistant director of all “Matrix” movies. They can point to his drawn-out, anticlimactic showdown between V and Sutler’s goons. They can point to the spotty acting. They can even point to the scene where V puts his second foot down in front of the security guard at the TV studio, since it was a dead ringer for the lobby/”Spybreak” sequence in “The Matrix.” Whatever happens with “V for Vendetta,” the Wachowski Brothers are in a position to take all of the credit – it’s our screenplay, we were executive producers! – and none of the blame (“We were just the producers!”). But from my perspective, the Wachowski Brothers have now made three mixed to bad movies in a row. And I’m a baseball fan, which means you’re out. As the principal said in “The Breakfast Club,” grab some wood there, bub.
Warner Brothers Home Video may just be the most naïve DVD publisher in the industry. For some reason, they believe that just because a movie carries a strong cult following, a two-disc special edition is in order. Unfortunately, they never seem to be able to actually fill two entire discs with bonus material, so why bother printing a whole another disc? With absolutely no audio commentary and only one bonus feature (“Freedom! Forever! Making of V for Vendetta”) to be found on disc one, it doesn’t make sense why the filmmakers couldn’t fit the rest of the bonus material on as well, especially when the second disc of special features runs well under an hour. Along with cast and crew interviews, the included bonus material also features a short documentary on production design (“Designing the New Future”), a ten-minute history lesson on Guy Fawkes (“Remember Remember”), and another featurette on the evolution of comic books.