“Artists use lies to tell the truth.”
2006. Rated R. Directed by James McTeigue. Written by the Wachowski Brothers. Based on the comic by Alan Moore. Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and John Hurt.
When V for Vendetta was announced, it had huge hit written all over it — it was the Wachowski brothers’ first post-Matrix production, based on a popular cult comic book, with a big budget and a well-known lead. However, the movie was largely overlooked, continuing the dimming of the Wachowski’s star. The anti-government theme did not play well with everyone and even more damaging was bad timing — the subway attacks in London prompted the release to be delayed by 6 months to the dead-period of March and ruined the perfect tie-in the release had in November.
Actually, checking on the box office numbers, it did a lot better than I thought (but still not nearly as well as it could have), the Guy Fawkes mask has become pretty ubiqitous on Halloween and it has kind of become a cult classic, but whatever, I still want to write about it. Next time I’ll pick something more obscure.
The film takes place in a future London, where a totalitarian regime has come to power playing on the fear of the people (caused by disease outbreaks and terrorist attacks), slowly taking away individual rights. On Guy Fawkes night (remember, remember the 5th of November), a masked man named V (Weaving) saves Evey Hammond (Portman) from crooked cops and then proceeds to blow up a landmark London building. Evey, as the straight-laced daughter of former revolutionaries, is immediately suspected to be a co-conspirator, and the movie essentially focuses on her relationship with V, and the effect of V’s actions on society.
The plot, not coincidentally, is designed to make you draw parallels to what’s happened in our own country over the past 8 years. Some people were upset that the movie seems to glorify terrorism, but of course, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. It’s unfortunate, but one reason why terrorism is so scary and powerful is because it does affect change, and while clearly V is a sympathetic character, it’s not as black-and-white as it could have been. In any case, that element of the movie did not bother me at all.
Portman is cast very well and does a solid job as the lead but is overshadowed, naturally, by V. Weaving does a excellent job despite being hidden, and the character is so memorable and iconic that it is still surprising the movie is not more popular. Stephen Rea plays the lead detective tracking V and is ideal for the world-weary character. John Hurt has a good look for the Big Brother-type leader of the rulng party and delivers in his short amount of screen time.
Really where the film shines though is in the production — though they did not direct and tapped their former assistant director McTeigue to do it, the Wachowski’s stamp is all over it. It looks great, the effects look great and the atmosphere is perfect for the narrative. It is a tightly crafted, very well-made film and this drowns out the few weak points, V’s silly introduction monologue, for example.
For me, though, what really mades the movie is one sequence, that may seem extraneous to the plot, but is absolutely what elevates the movie to one of my favorites. It’s a heartbreaking, emotional sequence — I’ve seen the movie twice and both times it got a little dusty in the room.
V for Vendetta might not really fit the overlooked and underrated label perfectly, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth checking out. Be aware that it is a very visceral film that begs to be watched on a big screen with the sound up. Let’s hope the Wachowskis can get back to making movies like this or the original Matrix and not movies like Speed Racer, which looked like a piece of crap.