V For Vendetta

It looks good when you can see it.  The dialogue is sharp and interesting.  There are some wonderful performances.  Overall, it’s a very timely piece.
 
But there’s something missing, something crucial to pulling everything together in a tight, pulsating fashion.
 
Real, constant emotion, the most important ingredient of them all, is notably absent.  Such a shame.
 
In V For Vendetta, a comic book movie with loads of ambition, a mysterious stranger makes his first appearance rescuing a beautiful young woman from a small band of Fingermen, the blatantly suggestive name for her oversexed, happily corruptible, would-be assailants.  Wearing a vaudevillian mask, a dark, feminine, long-haired wig, black cape and boots, he’s an actor on a mission.  In between slashing these thugs with his very sharp blades he never lets you forget he’s an actor with fierce intelligence.  It’s so fierce, in fact, that some of it goes right over our heads.  And it’s a bit pretentious.
 
With the situation safely defused, V (an uneven Hugo Weaving from The Matrix trilogy) introduces himself to Evey (the always lovely Natalie Portman nailing a British accent).  Right away, you sense something…off with him.  In easily the most annoying moment of the film, he offers a succession of "v" words to explain, sort of, his lot in life.  Later on, we get a clearer picture.
 
Something is very wrong with England, too.  An extreme right wing party, led by High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt, who I didn’t really hate enough, despite his charisma and entertaining lines), has removed practically every possible freedom we take for granted, thanks to its paranoid obsession with control.  (They rose to power during turbulent times.)  There are strict curfews (hence the Fingermen surrounding Evey), a long list of banned entertainment, immoral spying (including wiretaps) and forbidden zones.  TV stations offer mindless, fictional drivel while the news media are saddled with peddling mostly government propaganda.  (The viewing audience is highly skeptical but are powerless to do anything about it.)  Even the slightest adversarial motive one of its citizens might have can lead to ongoing torture and eventual execution, not to mention the implementation of another ordinance to obey.
 
Twenty years ago, something terrible happened at a medical facility to V.  Ever since, The Count Of Monte Cristo fanatic has plotted vengeance.  One by one, those responsible for his current condition (a badly burned body, amnesia, enhanced intelligence and physical strength) are eliminated.
 
But that’s not all.  He wants to blow up government buildings (a symbolic gesture meant to jolt the citizenry out of their forced mental captivity) and lead a revolution.  After the first bombing, with explosives strapped to his waist, he seizes control of a TV news set and announces his intentions to a docile public on an uncontrolled emergency channel that interrupts their regularly fed bullshit.  It’s a compelling speech but will the message get through?  Will the following year mark the start of something far more democratic for Great Britain?
 
Meanwhile, The Crying Game’s Stephen Rea and Rupert Graves (Mrs. Dalloway) are government law enforcement agents assigned by Sutler to squelch the end of V’s crusade before it really gets out of hand.  Rea’s performance as Inspector Finch, in particular, is pretty terrific.  He might be a longtime member of this awful political party (27 years, in fact), but he has his own mind.  Like V, he is very bright and has good instincts.  The more he investigates the elusive "terrorist", the more unsettling information he learns about his own government.  He, too, is shaken out of his own mental prison.  His findings bother him so much he loses sleep.
 
And yet, with all of this going on, V For Vendetta lacks the consistent excitement and the passion it desperately desires to pull off this overstuffed concoction.  Most of the action pales in comparison to The Wachowski Bros.’ far more compelling, yet less sensical, Matrix series.  There’s a sadly ordinary quality about them, although there are small moments that are effective.  Furthermore, you can’t always see what’s happening.  Too many of these moments are filmed in very low lighting.
 
For all of its good performances, notably Portman, the witty and empathetic Stephen Fry as a repressed, rebellious, Benny Hill-ian comedian, the fascinating Roger Allam as "The Voice Of London", a Rush Limbaugh-type demagogue, Rea and Graves, there are two that don’t quite make it.  John Hurt does the best he can with some strong dialogue but his presence, usually a tight close-up on a large screen during closed-door meetings with government officials, never generates the kind of loathing that only a ruthless dictator can inspire.  And as much I loved Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith in The Matrix movies, despite his great intelligence and honourable devotion to his risky cause, I never warmed to him as V.  He is the centre of the movie and yet, curiously, he’s a distant character.  We can accept the mystery of his past, that’s part of his persona, but he can be hard to take at times.  He needs a sense of humour and some charm.  As interesting as he is, we just don’t care about him.  The moment where he declares his love for Evie doesn’t work, either.  It’s an unpersuasive recycling of The Phantom Of The Opera.
 
V For Vendetta is a revenge picture, a police procedural, a mystery, an action flick, and a social commentary.  And that’s the problem.  It wants to be too many things at once and only succeeds on certain levels.  At various points throughout the movie, I had mixed feelings, but by the end, I just couldn’t feel what the filmmakers wanted me to feel.  It’s an honourable failure but a failure, nonetheless.
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
1:44 p.m.
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Published in: on May 20, 2008 at 1:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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