Movie Review: V FOR VENDETTA (2006)
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V for Vendetta (2006) – ***

V for Vendetta has been referred to as a revolutionary call to arms. In an America where representatives are repeatedly ignoring the voices of their constituents and civil liberties are being eroded for safety’s sake, I couldn’t ask for a better time to release this film. What I could ask for, though, is a better movie.

Yes, Vendetta has all the essential elements of an anti-establishment epic, with the assassination of fascist leaders and an ever-hyped destruction of the British Parliament building. The ideology, in fact, has more than enough momentum to make what turns out to be a messy action film into something a more significant. For the length of the film, though, I couldn’t help thinking one thing, “What would this movie be like if it had been made by someone else?”

Evey (Natalie Portman) is on the streets of London, out past curfew when she first meets V (Hugo Weaving). She is almost raped be three Party finger men, but a man in a wooden Guy Fawkes mask saves her. The least she can do is listen to his concerto, which is blasted on the telephone pole loudspeakers that are only for official Party messages to the people. The musical moment ends with a bang when V blows up the Old Bailey.

From then on V is Britain’s number one “terrorist” (secretly at first, like any hardworking totalitarian government) and Evey becomes a person of interest. V’s second little prank is to take over the state television network, where, coincidentally, Evey works. When his announcement of a plan to blowup Parliament on Guy Fawkes Day the next year is transmitted, he hatches an ingenious escape plan. V comes close to getting caught but Evey, for reasons she doesn’t understand, saves the “terrorist,” getting knocked-out in the process.

V takes her back to his hideout and their destiny is set. While the High Chancellor (John Hurt) urges his enforcers to find V and a Party police investigator (Stephen Rea) starts to see the real motivation for V’s vendetta, V’s sentiment begins to take hold and London’s regime is set to topple.

I did want to love this movie. I sat in the theatre, hoping that the film’s ideas would not simply be evident, but instead, blindside most with its prescience (Strength through Unity, Unity through Faith!). Unfortunately, a V for Vendetta that could have changed people was turned into an overanxious actioneer.

I guess I shouldn’t expect anything more from the team that brought America some of the most superficial, but zealously entertaining films of the late 1990s and two terribly stupid films in 2003. The Wachowski Brothers (BoundThe Matrix Trilogy) and their apparent stooge James McTeigue successfully enfeebled what had the potential to be the most important film of 2006.

I doubt that the release date on the Third Anniversary of the Iraq war was a mistake. The film’s heavy handed references to “America’s war” and the civil war that ensued are unmistakably relevant. That is where the film succeeds in spite. In spite of the Wachowskis, in spite of McTeigue, and in spite of Warner Brothers’ trepidation after the fact, V for Vendetta works.

Maybe it was Natalie Portman’s thespian commitment to her character, something not required in the film McTeigue wants to make. Maybe it was Hugo Weaving’s mastery of his character’s theatrical nature. Maybe, in fact, it was the courage to make Vendetta into a film in the first place. For many reasons that I can’t credit to the filmmakers, Vendetta succeeds on an intellectual level. (Thanks Alan Moore.)

Much of this review comes from a place that is inclined to find truth in Vendetta’s ideas. I don’t know how people of other political leanings might react to the film. It’s not a great film, from my point of view, except for its politics. Critics who pretend to be unbiased will deservedly lambaste the film. Much of the emotion, the plot, and the characters are weakened because of the commitment to a videogame visual style that McTeigue can’t seem to shake. It’s not The Matrix, but it tries to be at times.

So the question remains. What would this film have felt like in someone else’s hands? How aboutThe Constant Gardener director Fernando Meirelles, whose visual style wouldn’t have been appropriate, but certainly would have been more interesting? Or Bryan Singer, who managed hone in on X-Men’s equally blatant political allegory? Or the more recent sci-fi specialist Kurt Wimmer? I could dream of Lang or Kubrick or Spielberg, but I can’t compare Vendetta to any of their films. It’s just not worthy. It could have been, but it’s not. And that’s where the film goes wrong in the first place–not realizing its own potential.

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