V for Vendetta
by John McTeigue (dir)/The Wachowski Bros (wr)
Review by Rogan Marshall
Warner Brothers Film
Date: / Show Official Info /
CAST: Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond * Hugo Weaving as V * Stephen Rea as Finch * Stephen Fry as Deitrich * John Hurt as Adam Sutler * Tim Pigott-Smith as Creedy
For this eyebrow raising serendipity we can largely credit Alan Moore, whose major early works include V; a British writer working during the Thatcher administration, Moore's sensitivity to incipient fascism was probably quite similar to the ugly ambivalence we Americans have developed of late toward our own government. Still, the Wachowski brothers' screenplay goes way out of its way to emphasize and update the story's political side. A thought-provoking fable about a costumed hero hunted as a terrorist by the oppressive regime he fights to overthrow, V explores and addresses fascism and theocracy, religion and censorship, terrorism and freedom, secret detention facilities and illegal surveillance, sexual corruption in the priesthood and homosexuality as protest, even the conspiracy theory paranoia that our leaders may actually be the terrorists they claim to protect us from. V for Vendetta reminds us that terrorism is a mutable, pliable concept; but fascism is not – and regardless of the misinformation it may feed us, to convince us it is just, a fascist government will eventually make terrorists of us all – in reasonable, reactionary protest.
As polemic or diatribe, V for Vendetta is a perfectly timed, raging success. But the source graphic novel is a complex work that succeeds on many levels. Its careful development of characters and suspense and atmosphere, the science and detective fiction at its edges, all Moore's genre elements are treated by this adaptation as irrelevant distractions. As an example, whether or not V manages to blow up Parliament, is the crux on which the climax is predicated, but one's appreciation of what there is to appreciate in this movie, isn't impaired in the least for having the ending spoiled by advance publicity.
V is built to be a fable or parable, rather than a genre movie; but this approach also excuses a good deal of bad plot logic. Its heavy-handed use of coincidence is deplorable, despite the many allusions to The Count of Monte Cristo that are apparently intended to alleviate such an impression, and long stretches, especially toward the end, dispense with cause-and-effect entirely. And even a parable, at feature length, still needs its audience to care about the characters, to keep the audience's attention for that long. A Clockwork Orange, Fight Club, Being There, even Dr. Strangelove (which is populated by Mad Magazine-level caricatures), are all political satires disguised as fantastic film, largely staged on a level approaching the abstraction of argument. But they also all have characters we care about and believe in, at least a little, at least enough. V for Vendetta is fully aware of its oversight in this area; the theme of V replacing human contact with ideas is insistently recurrent, and he even manages to kiss the girl without taking off his mask, which looks an awful lot like a direct reference to what I'm talking about. However, being aware of a problem, doesn't automatically fix it. V stays cold and distant and cerebral, through and through, disengaged not only from its characters, but from the whole level on which story is about character; it doesn't ruin the movie completely, but it definitely cripples it.
McTeigue is a limited, inexperienced director, and unfortunately, his weaknesses, and these studied shortcomings in the script, tend to emphasize each other. Camerawork is never driven or unified by principles of visual composition; every scene consists of voluminous coverage, shot by cameras placed in defiance of any rules. Then, the editing is so excessive and heavy, that the pace and rhythm of the entire picture are reduced to a metronomic drone, like fingers snapping rapidly, without variation – or like the beat of the music in the videos that McTeague must've directed, because that's how and where a director picks up this particular set of bad habits. When V occasionally behaves like a superhero, and kills a passel of bad guys, your eyes are going to be working so hard, subconsciously tracking a backdrop that keeps whirling more than a hundred degrees in either direction every edit, with the cuts coming faster than twice a second, that you won't even get tense about the onscreen action, though you may get a little nauseated.
And while Natalie Portman is almost excellent (Ms. Portman had to work extra hard on this performance, as her chance of making a career leap to bankable leading lady is partially predicated on its success), the rest of the cast consistently deliver muted deadpan line readings woefully bereft of emphasis or investment. This is a frustrating shame, because the script is full of potentially striking and memorable character roles. (Picture Tim Burton's Batman, with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson and the rest of that dream cast replaced by boring forgettable C-list actors, and you'll get my point.) V for Vendetta actually has more in common with Bowling for Columbine than any other recent movie. Like that particular Michael Moore documentary, V for Vendetta is a deeply flawed work, but hardly anyone is noticing, because the movie has a lot to say, and what it says is not only truth, but the very truth we Americans want and need to hear, this very week. To enjoy V for Vendetta, see it in a theater; by the time it gets to DVD, its political content may already be dated. (At least, I hope it will be. That may depend on whether or not the DVD comes out before the November elections...)