Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
March 2006

Who is that masked man?

Flawed but fascinating, 'V for Vendetta' continues the on-screen comic-book resurgence

V for Vendetta
Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: James McTeigue
Screenplay: Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, based on the graphic novel
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, Tim Pigott-Smith, Roger Allam and John Hurt
Rated R / 2 hours, 2 minutes
Opens March 17, 2006
(out of four)

During one pivotal moment in V for Vendetta, the title character - a masked vigilante known only as "V" - matter-of-factly informs us, "Artists use lies to tell the greater truth . . . Politicians use lies to cover it up."

No doubt people will use that very same argument - the first part, at least - to rip this film apart. With its subversive political allegory - including a terrorist as the leading man - and clear-cut leftist sensibilities, V for Vendetta is the kind of movie that the conservative right will have a field day with.

But many of the criticisms and complaints we are already hearing from the pundit circuit, and which we will certainly hear even more of once the film opens, are quite simply beside the point. Despite its inflammatory material, this is not a call to arms. This is rehashed Orwellian material, brought to the screen from the popular graphic novel, and done so in supremely entertaining fashion.

But in a current culture that is at once oversensitive and de-sensitized, the film will be given added urgency and significance, both by those who champion it and those who attack it. And however flawed and overwrought its allegorical methods are at times, this is a cinematic triumph.

Like so many books and films of the last century, V for Vendetta is a dystopian nightmare, set in a future that is just out of reach (some 20 years ahead, give or take). Britain has come under totalitarian rule, with the fascist leader, Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt) controlling the people's will with the help of his right-hand man, Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) and Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), a propagandist for the British Television Network and the so-called "Voice of Britain." Prothero is an exaggeratedly animated Bill O'Reilly type (though much more extreme) who ends his nightly broadcasts with the sign off, "England prevails!"

Out of the night comes the masked stranger, V (Hugo Weaving), who one night masterminds the destruction of the Old Bailey - which explodes to the sounds of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture - and the next day takes over the national airwaves to rally his fellow citizens in an uprising against their totalitarian rulers.

V uses as his rallying cry the following lines:

Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot...

The abbreviated poem refers to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which Guy Fawkes and several collaborators planned to blow up both houses of Parliament and assassinate King James I. As V sees Fawkes as a noble freedom fighter, he, too, has designs on blowing up Parliament, and plans on doing so on the following November 5. The plot has more complexities than that, but I'll leave those for you to discover.

While V is clearly the most iconic figure of this story, the main character is Evey (Natalie Portman) a naive young woman who works for BTN but eventually gets in cahoots with the mysterious V. On their first meeting, during which V saves her life and delivers an absolutely brilliant introductory monologue, she asks, "Are you, like, a crazy person?"

Maybe he is and maybe he isn't. Either way, he's out for vengeance against the government, and she slowly comes around to his side. Donning a Guy Fawkes mask - which not only keeps him anonymous but also conceals his mysterious disfiguration - and armed with an endless supply of knives, V takes the law into his own hands. Meanwhile, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea) is assigned to crack the case.

While it's hard to call V for Vendetta a "mixed bag," per se, it does have its problems. Sequences and moments of brilliance are mixed in with some problematic elements as well. The fascist government itself - why it exists, what its tactics are - is never as developed as it should be, and to many, the film will come across as preachy. Naturally, it may be easier for some to overlook the film's shortcomings if they already agree with its leftist slant.

The Wachowski Brothers' script is absorbing despite its shortcomings, and it's great to see the way they exploit political methods - fear tactics, buzz words, spin and propaganda, etc. - in such an entertaining way.

Many will see this is a blatant attack on the Bush administration, and perhaps it is, but John Hurt makes for a much more menacing Bad Guy than does George W., and he milks the role for all it's worth. In fact, all of the performances are solid, though V for Vendetta will be remembered not for its acting, but for nearly everything else.

Regardless of politics, the film's problems may be easy to disregard anyway simply because so much of the film is so good. While James McTeigue is credited as the director, the creative vision of the Wachowskis is clear. They wrote and produced the film, and reports have indicated that they were very hands-on during filming. Their influence is obvious, and it's about time - after the disastrous The Matrix Revolutions, it's nice to see they still have it.

While the film doesn't have the visceral effect of Sin City, nor a recognizable superhero like Batman Begins or Spider-Man 2, McTeigue and the Wachowskis clearly keep it grounded in the comic-book universe. V for Vendetta is highly stylized, featuring some startling and even beautiful visuals that at times reminded me of the Wachowskis' excellent 1996 debut, Bound.

One of the most curious things about the film is that it swims in the same waters as recent films like Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet and Doom - the dystopian future, a mysterious virus that wipes out thousands of people, action heroes dressed up as revolutionaries, etc. All the same elements are there, but with V for Vendetta, the material is approached with intelligence and tact, and the folks behind the camera actually have some talent. A lot of it.

Regardless of how seriously some may take the messages in V for Vendetta, the film can be taken in many ways - as allegory, as a thriller, as a fantasy, as an action flick. Or maybe it's all four. It succeeds, to one degree or another, in every way. Whichever way you see it, you can't lose.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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