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"Deliberately blurs the line between heroism and terrorism."
"Are they celebrating the demise of the conspiracy or the audacity of the idea?"
"Challenges audiences to comprehend and discover a personal set of truths."
V for Vendetta  


Evey Hammond: Natalie Portman
V: Hugo Weaving
Finch: Stephen Rea
Deitrich: Stephen Fry
Sutler: John Hurt
Review March 2006

"Remember, remember the 5th of November." It's the beginning of an age-old nursery rhyme that invokes Guy Fawkes Day, a noted holiday in England celebrating the foil of Fawkes' attempt to destroy Parliament and overturn King and government. And it's a call to arms for a futuristic vigilante to take action against a tyrannical and totalitarian state. Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, "V for Vendetta" tells the story of Evey, a young woman who is rescued by a masked man known only as "V" and schooled in his unconventional ways. Ultimately, she becomes part of V's master plan - a revolution designed to fight cruelty and corruption and restore freedom and justice to the world. Written by the Wachowski brothers, best known for "The Matrix" trilogy, "V for Vendetta" exists on many different levels. On one hand, it's an entertaining action adventure, a swashbuckler. And on the other, a political parable, filled with ominous foreshadowing and subtext. Complex, cautious, and curious, it deliberately blurs the line between heroism and terrorism.

The film opens up on November 5th, 1605. Guy Fawkes has hidden an arsenal of gunpowder underneath pieces of iron and firewood in a conspiracy attempt to blow up English Parliament and King James I. But the plot is foiled and he is captured, tortured, and sentenced to death. Now, in the year 2020, the world is much different. A virus has nearly destroyed the Earth. And England, in an effort to restore order, has allowed a fascist dictator to take control and remove all instances of personal freedom. But one man, a masked man named V, vows to fight against the new regime. And in the spirit of Fawkes himself, he aims to set off a revolution over the next 12 months, starting on the eve of Guy Fawkes Day. On this day, V rescues a young television reporter named Evey from sinister government agents and brings her into his world. And at the stroke of midnight, the two watch as the Old Bailey courtrooms explode.

Shocked and dismayed, Evey struggles to comprehend V's actions. Even after an assault on her very own television station in which V infiltrates, forcibly takes over the airwaves, and broadcasts a message for citizens to fight the oppression. Following the television station raid, Evey is knocked unconscious and brought back to V's lair, the Shadow Gallery. There, she tries to discover her inner self and learn more about the mysteries of V. But simultaneously, the government finger agents and local law enforcement perform investigations of their own. As the truth begins to emerge; in particular, the truth about Larkhill Resettlement Camp, another November 5th is rapidly approaching. And with time running out, Evey must determine whether she will help V in his master plan. But more importantly, she must discover where her true allegiance lies - for or against the vengeful vigilante.

Hoping to end the persecution of Catholics in the 1600's by King James I, Guy Fawkes and twelve other rebels devised the "Gunpowder Plot." Their intent? Blow up Parliament and create enough chaos and confusion across the country to force a new monarchy, one that was sympathetic to the Catholic cause. But on the night of November 4th, underneath the House of Lords, Fawkes was caught in an underground cellar with 36 barrels of gunpowder. In the aftermath, he was arrested and brought before the King, where he was tortured until finally confessing to his crimes. Along with his other conspirators, Fawkes was publicly hanged, drawn, and quartered, as was custom for traitors at the time. And so, on November 5th of every year, the English proudly celebrate this historic day, a day filled with bonfires, fireworks, masks and effigies known simply as "Guys." But are they celebrating the demise of the conspiracy or the audacity of the idea?

"V for Vendetta" first appeared in 1981 in black and white in an independent monthly comic magazine called "Warrior." Created and written by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the series ran for 26 issues strong before "Warrior" was cancelled. And it left avid readers hanging. In fact, it wasn't until 1989 that the story was resuscitated and released under the DC label in its entirety as a graphic novel. Exquisitely balancing thrills with ethical dilemmas, the story has lots of appeal because it implores many different levels of action, political intrigue, and interest. And it's extremely thought provoking. For instance, V is viewed as a swashbuckling hero and yet, acts like a terrorist, from the destruction of historic landmarks and symbols to the maiming of guilty and innocent people to the forceful brainwashing of Evey. Rife with influences ranging from Jack the Ripper to "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Matrix," "V for Vendetta" mixes elements together in a way that is profoundly complex and relevant.

Not to mention unmistakably eerie. Directed by James McTeigue, known for his work on the Matrix trilogy, "V for Vendetta" is wonderfully grim. In fact, the landscapes of London are so dreadful and dreary, it's no wonder the denizens are practically soulless. All of this is intentional as McTeigue borrows production designer Owen Paterson from the Matrix world and set decorator Peter Walpole from Star Wars notoriety to create a futuristic but mundane society, where all forms of individuality and liveliness are non-existent. Add to that, Adrian Biddle's photography, and you have a film full of rich, lasting images - hundreds of masked followers marching in unison through Whitehall, thousands of dominos triggered in perfect V formation, and numerous visual references, sprayed and burned with the letter V. And yet, despite its brilliant appeal, there's just something strange about V himself that's hard to shake - a smiling Guy Fawkes' mask, a Frenchman's flair for cooking, an interest in Scarlet Carson roses, and an obsession with "The Count of Monte Cristo," etc. that only compound the feeling of unease.

And speaking of which, V is portrayed quite capably by Hugo Weaving, with whom most will eternally remember as Mr. Smith. On the plus side, Weaving gives a remarkable performance, creating a character through tone of voice and body language. His enunciations are crisp and his movements are precise. But on the flip side, it's hard not to be disoriented by the mask, an unchanging, unmoving, and unemotional focal point that carries the same smiling expression whether excited or saddened. Accompanying V through the underground is Evey, played by Natalie Portman. Evey is a little na?ve and confused. And Portman is appropriate for the role, for her ability to project innocence and emotionally engage audiences, particularly as her femininity is shaved tearfully from her head. Equally impressive is the work of Stephen Rea, whose detective Finch is caught between his duty and his moral conviction. He wears a lifetime worth of stress and sorrow on his shoulders, and yet, perseveres so that we may know the real truth behind the man in the mask.

Oddly enough, the area where "V" falls short is in the dialogue department. It's overly abundant, to the point where scenes aimlessly drag on. For instance, there are countless instances where Sutler is projected on a big screen ranting to his direct reports, none of which are particularly memorable. Or the overdrawn emotional sequence where Evey discovers a letter from a former prisoner and reads it line by line. And then there's V, who seems almost obsessed with his own voice, often engaging in a never ending series of alliteration and iambic pentameter, "The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous." While the film has compelling actors and actresses delivering its lines, the sheer volume of lines dilutes their performances, an indication that the material may be too complicated or the filmmaker's storytelling needs a crutch.

Says V, "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people." While it may sound like a nifty catch phrase, if you are a firm believer in democracy, you'll undoubtedly see the flaw in the logic. Yet, it's okay for a film like "V for Vendetta," because that is precisely its point - to expose many different perspectives and ideologies, each of which challenges audiences to comprehend and discover a personal set of truths. In particular, the question of whether terrorism is ever justified. Although the film relies a little too much on dialogue to communicate its purpose, it does an effective job presenting bizarre and stunning images and has enough texture and subtext to provoke ongoing discussion. For in the end, as George Bernard Shaw iterates, "democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve."

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