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USA 2006
Directed by
James McTeigue
132 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3 stars

V For Vendetta

Synopsis: Who is V? He is literate, incredibly swift and strong, deadly with a knife, witty and resourceful and is always hidden behind a Guy Fawkes mask. After rescuing a young girl, Evey, he involves her in his exploits, namely the destruction of the totalitarian government ruling England.

Pointed in its political message, but told with wit, self-aware romanticism and never anything less than entertaining, V for Vendetta envisages the ways in which apathy and fear thrive under totalitarian rule when freedoms are swiftly removed and news becomes propaganda. But it also questions the notion of resistance. Can a personal agenda justify acts that could potentially liberate an oppressed people, or is it just vengeance? Told as a thriller rather than something more didactic, it’s a mystery as well but the one thing it isn’t is an action movie. Excepting a few explosions and some short fight scenes there is only one major action set \-piece. It’s pretty spectacular,\ with some innovative use of point-of-view shots, but it’s let down by an inane streaking effect behind V’s blades. No doubt there to illustrate the speed at which he’s moving, it distracts from what is otherwise a very cool sequence. It is one of two moments that betray the hands of the film’s co-producers, The Wachowski Brothers (the other being a shot directly referencing the famous lobby gunfight from the first Matrix film).

First time director James McTeigue (an Aussie!) worked as the First Assistant Director on all three Matrix films, and it’s interesting to see where the influence of the Wachowski Brothers shows through,and where it doesn’t. The script was written by them but was based on a graphic novel. The author, who asked for his name to be removed from the film (a point I will honour here as well) was unimpressed with the changes made, but it’s still a fine film. While The Matrix was an interesting idea that devolved into a series of increasingly risible action sequences, V for Vendetta, benefiting from its extremely fine source material, manages for much of its length to avoid much of the gimmickry and amateur philosophy that made The Matrix such a disappointment.

Dispensing with action for much of its length, the strength of the film lies in its exploration of ideas, summed up perfectly in one single sequence - the interrogation and torture of Evey (in which Natalie Portman had her head shaved). This is the core moment and message of the film - the capacity of a human to endure, to not give in to fear, and what this can mean to the real world. The performances from both Portman and  Weaving (acting entirely with gesture and voice, hidden behind a mask for the entire film) are very strong and they sell this moral tale. Stephen Rea and Stephen Fry also bring depth to characters working inside a system that oppresses them but to which they will not fully give in.

The depiction of the beauty and sanctity of life and the strength that can be drawn from it elevates this film above the usual multiplex fodder, but unfortunately it is badly let down by the end. In the book, V’s vendetta leads to the destruction of the government, and the whole country collapses into anarchy, every man for himself and selfishness prevails. The film ditches this pessimism to embrace a liberal wish fulfilling fantasy of people power, with protest marches that overthrow governments and a collective spirit that brings unity to the fearful and distrustful. It never fully satisfies or convinces, for is it is never explained how people who once embraced fascism as a solution could so suddenly embrace humanism as the ideal of freedom. It’s a major flaw in the film. Ironically this is brought home by the choice of the Rolling Stone's classic "Street Fightin' Man" to play over the end credits, a song with rousing Zeitgeist attitude but one that became part of the counter-culture's rapid absorption by consumerist values.




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