Most Americans probably have no idea about the significance of
the date of November 5 in British history, but it has come to be known
as "Guy Fawkes Day." On that date in 1605, the Roman Catholic Fawkes
had planned to assassinate the Protestant King James I as well as
members of Parliament by destroying Westminster Palace. Although
the so-called "Gunpowder Plot" was discovered and Fawkes was
tried for treason and executed, the evening of November 5th is
celebrated with fireworks  All this is background to help understand
V FOR VENDETTA, an adaptation of a graphic novel by Alan Moore, with
a script by the Wachowski brothers and directed by James McTeigue, a
Wachowski associate making his feature debut.

 In a futuristic world, the United States has ceded its position
as a world leader and once again Great Britain has become a potent
force. The result, though, is a repressive, fascistic government headed
by Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt), whose presence is mostly seen via
big-screen television. Any similarities between that regime and those
of Mussolini's Italy or Hitler's Germany are more than clearly encouraged.
Into this mix, though, arrives V (Hugo Weaving), a charismatic
anarchist who plots to destroy government buildings (timed to
celebrations of Guy Fawkes Day). Furthering the ties to the 17th
century "terrorist" is V's insistence of wearing a mask with Fawkes'
visage as well as a dark flowing wig, and cape.

 Reportedly, Moore has disdained the screenplay, feeling that
it has been refashioned into a parable about the United States and
not about Britain as was his original intent. (Moore wrote the piece
as a reaction to the rise of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.) I suppose
some will read it in that manner, but I prefer to take it as fantasy.
On that level,
V FOR VENDETTA works brilliantly.

 On an evening when he strikes, V rescues Evey Hammond (Natalie
Portman) from a group of government thugs. The police infer that she
must somehow be associated with him in his anarchistic causes, so
they set out to arrest her at her office at the one television network
in the country. By coincidence, V has planned to commandeer the
airwaves at the same time, and when cornered by the police, he is
rescued by Evey. Gradually, she and V form a bond that is something
akin to a chaste romance.

 The performances carry the day, with Weaving overcoming the
handicap of having his expressive face covered by the mask. He
utilizes his body language and his plummy voice to great ends and
one gets caught up in his story as it gradually emerges just how he
became radicalized. Portman, whose luxurious locks are shorn in a         
pivotal scene, more than rises to the challenge. After the debacle of
her performances in the
STAR WARS films, it's great to see this
talented young actress fulfilling the promise hinted at early in her
career (
THE PROFESSIONAL, BEAUTIFUL GIRLS) and glimpsed in
her Oscar-nominated work in
CLOSER.

 There's fine support from a host of veteran actors as well,
including Hurt (who ironically portrayed the hero in 1984 and here
embodies the essence of Big Brother), Stephen Fry as a subversive
television host, Stephen Rea and Rupert Graves as policemen assigned
to investigate V, Tim Piggott-Smith and Ben Miles as government
ministers, Roger Allam as a television pundit, and Sinéad Cusack
as a doctor with ties to V's past.

 The production values on
V FOR VENDETTA are all top notch,
including the cinematography of the late Adrian Biddle (to whom the
film is dedicated), the exquisite production design of Owen Paterson,
and Dario Marianelli's orignal score. The script finds the parallels with
other stories from
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA to THE COUNT OF
MONTE CRISTO
. There are visual references that invoke myriad
films about the Nazis, torture scenes that call to mind the Holocaust
as well as more recent atrocities (Abu Grhaib and/or Guantánamo).

 I know it sounds a little strange to be recommending a movie
about a revolutionary at this time, but I thoroughly enjoyed this
motion picture and, if taken for its fantasy alone, it provides great
escapist entertainment.

         

         Rating:                B+
         MPAA Rating:        R for strong violence and some language
         Running time:       132 mins.

 
V for Vendetta
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.