V for Vendetta: 2006, dir. James McTeague. Seen May 13, 2006 (Alamo South Lamar).
V for Vendetta is an entertaining movie while you’re watching it, although afterwards, it hardly seems memorable. It is a lesser, almost forgettable entry in the dystopian-future genre of films, but then it’s up against classics like Brazil. It’s difficult not to think of 1984 or Brazil while watching this movie, and the movie suffers in comparison. Still, it was more enjoyable than I would have predicted, and didn’t drag much even with the long running time.
V for Vendetta, adapted from the graphic novel by Alan Moore, takes place in a grim future in which the government has infringed on citizens’ rights in the name of safety against terrorism, and added some religious oppression to boot. (You can imagine that many people might feel that this day is not far off in real life.) A gang of secret police known as the Fingermen have the power to break into any building and arrest, or assault, whomever they like. So when our heroine, Evey (Natalie Portman), is out after curfew and encounters a group of these guys, she knows she’s doomed … until a mysterious stranger in a Guy Fawkes mask, known only as V (Hugo Weaving) rescues her and involves her in his scheme to blow up the Old Bailey. Next year, he warns, he’ll blow up the Houses of Parliament on Nov. 5, tres Guy Fawkes. Evie is unable to extricate herself from accusations of terrorism and from V, the mysterious masked man.
Meanwhile, Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) is trying to find out exactly who V might be … and why he’s targeting certain people for death and destruction. Of course, his superiors tell him to cut it out, but he pursues the information anyway. It’s that kind of movie. And despite the government’s efforts, V is recruiting more and more ordinary people to his side.
I was disgusted by one particular plot twist regarding Evey’s fate, which I won’t give away, but which I thought was ridiculously over-the-top. I lost a great amount of empathy for V at that point … the event demonstrated he was insane, not dedicated. It’s difficult to get a grasp on his personality or to sympathize with him much.
Apart from the absurd plot twist, many of the story’s elements were overly predictable. Fortunately, excellent acting from Rea and Weaving helped overcome the mundanity of much of the plot. Portman was better than I expected but her performance seemed bland. (In terms of kickass young females in recent films, I much preferred Keira Knightley as Domino Harvey.) Stephen Fry has a charming small role; I wish we’d seen more of him. John Hurt isn’t bad, but if you’ve seen 1984 then his role feels like stunt casting.
I was worried that V’s mask would be tiresome after awhile, but the mask is handled very well in the film. It’s not that you don’t notice it after awhile — you absolutely do. But the storyline has you wondering what’s under it, and manages to maintain suspense. Will the mask ever come off? Does it matter?
I did like the film’s parallels to The Count of Monte Cristo. I’ve enjoyed the book, but have never seen any of the film adaptations. V for Vendetta is in fact a not-bad contemporary updating of the book, although I have no idea if any of that was referenced in the original graphic-novel source. I know that Moore has distanced himself from his original work as well as this movie.
As a portentious vision of the future, or even a warning for the present, V for Vendetta falls short. It’s a little too shallow, extreme, and comic-book-ish. Less style, less hyperbole, and more realism would have worked more effectively.