A mysterious figure known as `V' (Hugo Weaving) begins an assault against England's government led by Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt). He saves Evey (Natalie Portman), a young woman, from the Fingermen, a covert branch of the government's police force. His first step is to attract the attention of the people and he does this by blowing up the Old Bailey, the symbol of law and justice within England, a system that no longer works. Sutler is outraged and immediately summons a meeting of his inner council, lording over them through a huge video screen. Sutler orders Finch (Stephen Rea), the leader of the police force, to find the perpetrator. As V wears a Guy Fawkes mask throughout, it is difficult to identify him, so Finch zeroes in on Evey.
M for Message
"V for Vendetta", written and produced by the Wachowski Brothers ("The Matrix" trilogy) and directed by James McTiegue is the latest entry in what I hope will be a continuing trend. We all know Hollywood loves blockbusters. Generally, these films are exercises allowing the filmmakers to trot out all of their tricks. Sort of like the old Mickey Rooney - Judy Garland films. "Let's put on a show" followed by a huge, elaborate musical in their backyard, or the barn, with great musical numbers, full orchestras, but little rhyme or reason. In today's Hollywood, a new film is the excuse to showcase any new special effects or stunts, showcasing the `talents' of everyone involved. Story? Story is unimportant. "Look at all of the cool crap we can blow up. Let's put on a show."
With "Batman Begins" and now "V for Vendetta" (yes, in Hollywood, two films count as a trend. I would consider "Terminator 2" part of the trend but that was released too long ago) we see a movement to create blockbusters which also attempt to say something. "Vendetta" tries to incorporate messages about government control, some of which may be viewed as parables for our current administration.
T for Thematic
Based on a graphic novel, the author has removed his name from the film because he was unhappy with the thematic changes in the story. His graphic novel was created with a critical eye towards Margaret Thatcher's Tory government. I have never read the graphic novel, so I can't comment on any changes, but the film seems to be more a critique of the current British and American governments.
There are scenes depicting wire tapping, prolonged wars, chemical experiments which may have lead to chemical warfare, spin doctors, government control in the face of paranoia, political talk show hosts and more.
V for Visual
The film creates an interesting visual universe blending elements of modern design, the Nazis, Big Brother, the 1940s, and "Phantom of the Opera". These ideas and images blend together far too easily and help create a world which seems a little old fashioned and a little modern. Visually, this works extremely well with the thematic elements, reinforcing the message for every two steps forwards, we take one step back.
H for History
"Vendetta" is set in the future, but as historians will tell you those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. The film begins with a prologue depicting the story of Guy Fawkes, the man who attempted to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605. Moving forward more than 400 years, "Vendetta" begins on November 4 and as soon as the clock strikes midnight, V blows up the Old Bailey.
B for Back-story
But we have questions and the questions need to be answered. Who is V? How did he come about? What prompted him to begin his current journey? What is Evey's background? How did the Chancellor come to rule Britain with an iron grip? These are important things for us to know, to help make these characters believable and interesting. And the filmmakers realize this importance. A considerable amount of screen time is spent portraying part of these histories; through a series of back stories and montages, we learn these things, adding depth and interest to the story. If you think about it, few dramas made in Hollywood today devote this much time to the back-story, let alone a big budget `action' film.
O for Observer
At one point, there may be too much back story. Because so much time is devoted to four or five various bits of history, these serve to take us out of the story, making us an observer, not a participant. We almost, not quite but almost disconnect from the story. Just as V expects British citizens to realize they need to stand up and fight for their rights, the filmmakers expect us to participate in the film. Passive observance isn't enough for this film, yet it almost gets that. One of the back stories in particular tests our resolve; it seems unnecessary to learn about a character we never actually meet the person in the film.
G for Good
Natalie Portman is good as Evey Hammond, the young woman who becomes V's unwitting accomplice. Initially, she is just like every other British citizen; trying to deal with the past while surviving in the present with little overt concern about the future. How does she do this? She tries to forget the past and complacently deal with the present. As she becomes embroiled in Vs plot, she begins to gain strength, to become an ally to the masked man. It is an interesting performance. Throughout a significant portion of the film, her character is imprisoned, tortured or interrogated. After this, she is still not completely committed to V's cause, the transformation continues. It is testament to everyone involved that Evey never becomes a superhero, always remaining a human being. It is her resolve, her persona that must change.
H for Hero
Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith, "The Matrix" trilogy) has the most difficult role; behind a mask throughout, he has to create a character without facial expressions. He does this in a manner of ways, through words, body language, and action. His hands and arms, the cock of his head, his voice, all lend to his character. On more than one occasion, he uses riddles to temporarily perplex his foes. At one point, a speech uses seemingly every word beginning with the letter `V'. This verbal exposition provides a unique, fun and interesting dimension to his character.
More importantly, Weaving manages to convey the various complexities of his character. Technically, he is an outlaw, but we see the world he lives in, through his eyes, and realize he is more of a hero. Some of his actions may appear severe, but his character is living in desperate times. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
S for Support
The supporting cast is universally good, providing an interesting level to the film. Stephen Rea is the standout as Finch, the leader of the traditional police. He begins to realize the problems with the current regime, yet still must carryout his job. Throughout, we see the conflict on his face, testing him every minute, Stephen Fry is very good as a television personality hiding a secret from the world. John Hurt is suitably ominous as Chancellor Sutler, always appearing on large video screens. Tim Piggot-Smith is very good as the head of the Fingermen, the government's version of the Gestapo.
C for Conclusion
"V for Vendetta" is a very well-made film with a lot of ideas and messages. It is not a traditional action film. There are a few choreographed fight sequences, but the majority of the film is a drama, exploring how V and Evey will change there country, for the better, for the worse, through their actions and the actions of the people.