Volume 25, Number 01, Fall, 2007

Remember, remember, the story to render

V for Vendetta

Directed by James McTeigue
Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea;
Warner, July 2006 (DVD)
Reviewed by David Wayland
October 2007

In a recent interview on Forbidden Planet’s web site, David Lloyd, co-creator of the graphic novel V for Vendetta, remarked generously that the people behind the movie version had the prerogative to make any changes they liked as they had bought the film rights. Judging the movie on its own, independent from the original source, falls into the realm of damn near impossible, and probably no single critical review (especially those who favorably considered the political aspects) eluded that gauntlet. The moment the producers and actors got up on stage in Berlin and announced the movie would stick close to the key points of the book, attention focused on this elusive task. Few movies remain faithful to the books on which they are based; perhaps this is an impossibility. And yet, to give the movie its proper due, I intend in this review to focus solely on the cinematic aspects of V for Vendetta, and whether it succeeds or fails on those merits.

The movie opens as Evey Hammond, played by Natalie Portman, a young professional working in a menial position at a TV station, prepares apprehensively for a night out. Evey exists in a grim world, with curfews, jackbooted police thugs who haul people off to jail or worse, and when she’s confronted out after curfew, she is almost raped by policemen. Enter stage left an alliterative man in a mask, who casually dispenses with her assailants, and then invites her to watch with him as a significant government building explodes while he claims credit.

V takes over a TV station to broadcast his message to the public, hinting at something big one year away, on the 5th of November. As the police arrive to arrest Evey, whom they tracked from the earlier incident, they surprise V. In the subsequent melee V is forced to take Evey with him. She awakens in V’s strange world, and finds herself drawn to him yet also repulsed by his violence. When she assists him in killing a bishop, she tries to flee and is instead captured and tortured. Evey’s mental journey as a result of this torture contains also the best scenes in the movie, as she reads the tale of Valerie, a victim of the state’s imprisonment and torture for her simple crime of being a lesbian.

In the interrogation and following scenes Portman shows her strongest moments as an actor. It’s a sad testament to the intellectual poverty of cinema and cinematic coverage in the press that more attention focused on Portman’s shaving her head for this scene than the ideas behind the movie. Those ideas also fail to shine through, for movies are not so much about ideas as they are about visual stimulation and display.

In those terms, V for Vendetta delivers action and intensity. Despite one minor Matrix moment near the end, with spinning knives and slo-mo effects, the sight of the mask on the screen is quite powerful. Hugo Weaving performs superbly as the man behind the mask. His face never revealed, he still manages to invoke the right emotions and sympathy for V using intonation, perfectly timed tilts of his head, clothing and other props, and other body language.

While the film failed to supply the same emotional intensity than say, Serenity, it’s an enjoyable action movie with a few barbs at totalitarian states thrown in for effect. Don’t watch it expecting to see the graphic novel on the screen. Rather, this is an entertaining and very watchable movie based on that book.

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