March 23, 2006
V for Vendetta (R)
reviewed by Amy Diaz
The Wachowski brothers remind us that they can, in fact, make a decent movie even if it does feature a bit of politics and philosophy with V for Vendetta, the dizzily fun action movie with lots of extravagantly fireworks-accented explosions and vigilante ass-kicking.
Nothing gets across a political idea quite like the bombing of national landmarks choreographed to the “1812 Overture” and bedazzled with pretty fireworks, some of which sparkle out the letter “V.” Beat that with a city-square protest and a letter in The Nation.
Of course, the characters of V for Vendetta have more to protest than your average lefty. In a Britain of the not-too-distant future, a deadly virus has given the government an excuse to give in to fascism — persecuting immigrants, Muslims, homosexuals and others not getting with the Anglican authoritarian program. Having convinced the public that they are at constant risk of terrorist attack, the government imposes strict curfews and dispatches a small army of thugs to see that the public pays heed to the rules. The assistant at a government-controlled (though, what isn’t?) television station, Evey (Natalie Portman) finds herself out after curfew one night and runs into a trio of these deputized bullies. They back her into a dark corner and threaten all sorts of evil but are interrupted in their attack by the sudden appearance of V (Hugo Weaving), a caped figure in a Guy Fawkes mask. He makes quick work of these men with the six-packs of knives he conceals on either leg. As a thank-you to her savior, Evey accompanies him to a rooftop where they watch his elaborately staged destruction of the Old Bailey. Though the government tries to cover the next day and say the demolition was officially scheduled, V himself hijacks the airwaves and broadcasts a message to his fellow Britons explaining that he blew up the Old Bailey and he plans to blow up Parliament exactly one year later (Nov. 5, Guy Fawkes Day).
To get that TV time, V briefly holds hostage the crew at Evey’s TV station. During his escape, he is nearly captured by a member of the government’s security force (which was already at the station in an attempt to find Evey, who they believed might be connected to the bombing). Just as the cop closes in, however, Evey repays V’s rescue by macing the cop so both she and V can escape. V takes Evey in but Evey is a very reluctant revolutionary and she eventually escapes, ending up in a government prison where she undergoes all sorts of torture, has her head shaved and slowly learns not to fear her government anymore.
Because, really, once a girl goes bald, what’s left to fear?
The movie begins with the Bailey bang and promises us more blowin’ up at the end but it’s all the showy in-between violence that ensures you won’t get bored even when V launches into the occasional speech on citizenship (seems the Wachowskis can’t resist using Weaving, the former Agent Smith, to do a little philosophizing but only once — predictably, during someone’s death scene — does the speechifying try our patience). John Hurt, who plays dictator Adam Sutler, is a cheap Hitler knockoff but his giant, usually televised, head and his Gestapo-ish advisers serve as entertaining villains who are giddily hateable. Serving as the surrogate for the British public (and as a source of back-story exposition), Stephen Fry plays a detective who slowly learns the horrors that his government has committed with a respectable lack of the ham that could have overtaken the role.
There are some problems with the blow-up-the-government-to-save-it philosophies of V and you could easily argue that V is more anarchist than vigilante of the people. Also, a fan of swashbuckling movies and The Count of Monte Cristo, V is also sort of a fire bug who delights in his violence and his overly complicated schemes.
But, rather than poke holes in the giddy explosion movie where V is constantly able to defeat groups of armed government goons with nothing but knives and panache, I choose to take my fun where I can get it and there is plenty of kaboom-punctuated fun here. Portman, light though her role is, puts enough fire into Evey to make us forget the pale paper doll of the second and third Star Wars movies. Weaving gives every line, even the silly ones, a smoky silky delivery. And even the Matrix-ish swishes that follow each swing of one of V’s blades still create enough of a wow-cool effect to keep the action fresh.. B+
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