|Image courtesy of Warner Bros.|
V: Hugo Weaving
Finch: Stephen Rea
Deitrich: Stephen Fry
Creedy: Tim Pigott-Smith
Sulter: John Hurt
Warner Bros. presents a film directed by James McTeigue. Written by the Wachowski Brothers, based on the graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd. Rated R (for strong violence and some language).
“People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people.” – V
I’m thinking of a world where governments operate entirely in secret. A government that assures its citizens everything they won’t tell them about is being done purely for their safety. A government that puts covering up their business ventures and shady dealings above freedom and justice for its people. A government that takes drastic measures to counter what might become rather that was has actually happened. I’m shocked that I’m not sure whether I’m talking about the near-future fantasy world of the film adaptation of the graphic novel “V for Vendetta” or the current state of the world we live in today.
“V for Vendetta” is an angry movie, for a time that could possibly use more anger. I am reminded of the films that came out in the late sixties that openly criticized the policies and practices of the governments of the time. Haskell Wexler captured the Chicago riots as they happened in his anti-authoritarian movie “Medium Cool”, and first-time director James McTeigue comes dangerously close here to the same type of anti-authoritarian finger pointing, but with a much more aggressive nature. It is certainly no mistake that in the futuristic dystopia presented here that this world’s downfall began with an unending war started by the United States and involving Iraq.
It isn’t really surprising that, despite the fact that “V for Vendetta” appeared in its original comic book form in 1983 as a reaction to the Thatcherite period in England, it themes of terrorism and fear could be so easily translated into terms that fit our current world order. The Wachowski Brothers, creators of “The Matrix” universe, have always shown an adept ability to translate the attitude of the comic book format to the screen. Despite a large amount of changes to the storyline, including the deletion of major characters and the addition of a more complete world view that places most of the blame for this bleak future on American foreign policy, this screenwriting team has done a wonderful job preserving the ideology and unique mood of the original story by Alan Moore (who refused source material credit for the film) and artist David Lloyd.
Set in London, in 2020 (the original story was set in the year before the millennium), “V for Vendetta” shows us an England that has become something resembling a Nazi state, where a mysterious man in a mask known only as V has begun a series of terrorist bombings in celebration of former British revolutionary Guy Fawkes. Fawkes was hanged for trying to blow up the Parliament building in 1605. V saves a seemingly random victim from brutalization from the government’s strong-arm division The Finger. Her name is Evey, and she finds herself at first an unwilling accomplice to V’s devious schemes until she discovers how deeply rooted the government’s tactics of submission through fear are throughout British society.
Evey is sort of a blank slate for V to mold toward his point of view, although she is a little more strong-willed here than in the graphic novel. She works a fairly innocuous job as a gofer at a government TV news station, which acts as a stage for V to publicly voice his intentions to the country early in the story. Natalie Portman (“Closer”), with her large expressive eyes and dollish beauty, is a good choice to play Evey, who goes through the greatest transformation in the story. That beauty is shattered along with her emotions in a sequence where government captors try to break her down by shaving her head and torturing her in various ways to gather information on the mysterious V.
Although V is portrayed by Hugo Weaving (“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), his face is never seen. The Guy Fawkes mask he wears as his vigilante garb has the effect first of dehumanizing him, but as more is filled in about his history and the atrocious acts inflicted upon him by his government in an affront against humanity as a whole, the mask’s effect is changed into lessening his iconic nature while simultaneously clarifying his message. There is a wonderful scene where V takes revenge on a scientist who is probably the most humane of his former torturers. The scene begins with V as a menacing figure with only his mask appearing out of the shadows of the dark corner of her bedroom, but ends with V at her bedside allowing the audience to sense the pain his mission of revenge causes him.
Stephen Rea (“Breakfast on Pluto”) is another good choice to play Finch, the puppy-like watchdog head detective of the government’s police division The Nose. Not only do his puppy dog looks personify his function in the film they also lend him to be the character naturally to start to sympathize with V and Evey’s purpose. As his loyalties begin to sway, he is replaced on the case by The Finger head Creedy. Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith, “Alexander”) is aptly described by a friend who attended the screening with me as looking like a vampire. And the filmmakers have fun with their casting of John Hurt as their Big Brother-ish dictator Adam Sulter, turning the tables on Hurt’s role as Winston Smith in the film adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984”.
“V for Vendetta” is a surprisingly complex story that the filmmakers tell as if emerging from a bank of fog, it starts out very murky but by the end it is all almost horrifically clear. Some die hard fans of the comic book may be disappointed with the many changes that have been made from its original incarnation, but most of those changes are necessary to preserve the topical nature a story with such political ramifications must contain. In making these changes McTeigue and the Wachowskis have turned a cautionary tale that many may no longer understand into the most aggressive artistic condemnation on film against the status quo since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.