by Adam Michaelson
In one of the opening scenes of V For Vendetta, Natalie Portman’s character Evey asks, “Are you like…a crazy person?” of Hugo Weaving’s V” Viewers need not worry, for the filmmakers certainly were a bit crazy themselves. V For Vendetta, while subjected to the Wachowski brother’s signature treatment, is definitely a film worth the two hours.
While the movie is set in the year 2038, the British government has been taken control of by a totalitarian named Adam Sutler, the leader of the Norsefire party. Later on in the movie, V explains, “Fear became the ultimate tool of this government.” It is through this fear along with numerous forms of propaganda, complete control of the media, use of curfews, violent operations, discrimination, executions, and constant surveillance and spying that the government retains its control over citizens.
When V For Vendetta begins, it is prefaced with Evey Hammond telling the story of Guy Fawkes. He was a revolutionary who had been caught in an attempt to bomb the Parliament building on November 5th in the 16th century. It is only minutes later when this date takes on even further meaning when the eccentric V bombs the Old Bailey while broadcasting Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture through the government’s own emergency loudspeakers.
The movie then goes on to document V executing a plot of both revenge and freedom from oppression. It is discovered that V had been a human test subject for biochemical warfare testing years prior to when the movie opens. This testing facility had been bombed and V had escaped with his life and his anger. Not surprisingly, the date of this bombing was November 5th. V consistently uses the anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ attempted revolution to exact his revenge. In the year after he bombed the Old Bailey, V makes careful work of killing everyone involved in the running of Larkhill, the facility where he and others were experimented on.
During all of this, he garners the attention of the public and delivers messages of truth and freedom. Slowly but surely, V gains the trust of the citizenry. The public opinion of him becomes far better than that of the ruling regime. This is exactly what V had planned.
The best aspect of the film has to be the idea of manipulation. Throughout the film, the filmmakers depicted manipulation as a tool of both good and evil. Even V acknowledges this notion when he quotes Evey’s father in saying, “Artists use lies to tell the truth.” He goes on to explain, “Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”
On the other hand, the government in this film uses tools of manipulation for its own agenda. While broadcasting a false news story to make the destruction of the Old Bailey seem like a planned government project, Sutler’s man Dascomb remarks, “This is the BTN. Our job is to report the news, not fabricate it. That’s the government’s job.” It becomes difficult to differentiate which entity is which. In one of the later scenes of the movie, V explains the situation to Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) by saying, “Fear became the ultimate tool of this government.”
This is, of course, the main message of the film. In a pirate broadcast to the British public, V reminds the public of the wrongdoings of the government and then offers up the blame by saying, “If you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.”
The influence of the government is also witnessed when Dominic, Finch’s assistant, says, “He’s a terrorist, you can’t expect him to act like you and me.” Finch is quick to correct him by saying, “Some part of him’s human.”
V’s use of alliteration is another success of this film. Phrases like “censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission” flow like rivers and are memorable, and therefore more powerful. This is a show of writing talent and Weaving’s delivery of these lines is impeccable.
One problem in the film is the lack of consistency; not in the plot but in the production. In the two scenes where V and Evey are on the rooftop of V’s hideout, there is an overwhelming hair light. This makes the scene feel awkward as it gives it a surreal feeling in a place that should be more real. Either the moon is much brighter in 2038 or someone forgot their light meter. The look would have been much more acceptable had the filmmakers continued it throughout the film, but alas no such look was achieved on any consistent basis.
Something else that is a bit distracting is the “futuristic-retro” look of the film. The special effects give the film a futuristic look, reminiscent of The Matrix at times. This comes as no surprise, but thankfully is not overbearing. In the flashback of a woman who had been in charge of Larkhill, the production causes the scene to have a 1950s wartime look. While it is understandable that the filmmakers want to note how far in the past this event was, it creates a rift in the timeline of the story.
The soundtrack of the film seemed to have been chosen by a catholic group. While the instrumental music selected for effect added momentum and suspense, V’s music taste is that of slow jazz accompanied by female vocals. He is seen listening to both Julie London’s old time “Cry Me A River” as well as modern day Cat Power’s version of Lou Reed’s “I Found A Reason.” The soundtrack also entertains such artists as Boots Randolph, Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, and Antony and the Johnsons. The Rolling Stones begin the credits with their song “Street Fighting Man.” This variation in music is a bit odd and at times out of place.
The existence of a love story between Evey and V is questionable at best. While they do share one or two moments of intimacy, such as when they kiss just before V leaves to face certain death, there is doubt as to whether or not it is the typical Hollywood romance that viewers might be used to. This love shared seems to be more of a bond which is formed between people who share a common situation; it is created when people share the same plight.
While Hugo Weaving (Transformers, Lord Of The Rings) is becoming more recognized for his voice, he is able to employ an enticing accent. Even behind the Guy Fawkes mask, his voice remains sharp and articulate throughout the film. Weaving’s line delivery is both inspired and attention grabbing, which makes him a perfect fit for his role. Also fitting for their roles are Tim Pigott-Smith and John Hurt as Creedy and Adam Sutler, respectively. Pigott-Smith delivers a chilling performance as Sutler’s right hand man, “a man seemingly without a conscience,” as V tells Chief Inspector Finch. Hurt portrays a control obsessed Sutler without missing a beat. Like Weaving, Hurt’s voice is the most fitting part of his character.
The character of Evey Hammond is played excellently by an emotional Natalie Portman. While her character may be a bit confused as to her intentions, Portman does an impressive job of making the best out of an iffy part in the script. Stephen Rea’s Chief Inspector Finch is one of the most convincing characters in the whole movie. He achieves this with a quiet concern always on his face and the constant impression that there is more going on in his mind than he lets out. Viewers will connect the most with Finch as he is the most accessible due to his more humanistic nature and understanding.
In all of this, there are a few roles that missed the mark a bit. Ben Miles’ performance as Dascomb had a good start but fell off as the movie went on. In a scene inside a television studio, he seems almost out of place and begins to overact as he tries to think up a plan. This happens again as he ponders how to cover up V’s murder of a prominent Norsefire party member. It appears as though Miles was thinking more about his body language than about his character’s plans.
Through and through, this movie was made with the intent of stimulating the mind of the viewer. Although it may seem over-intellectualized and out of reach in certain places, the message of responsibility rings through loud and clear. A few scenes did seem to go on just a bit too long, however the film would probably lack without them. “I suddenly had this feeling that everything was connected. It was like I could see the whole thing, one long chain of events,” says Finch. That is exactly what this movie is, one long chain. If it were missing just a single piece, it would be incomplete. All in all, V For Vendetta is worth the two hours…even if only once, just to bear witness to a revolution.