V for Vendetta (2006)
November 6, 2011 3 Comments
Invited to dinner by television presenter Gordon Deitrich (Stephen Fry), Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is attacked by members of the state’s secret police for having broken curfew. Saved by an alliteration-spouting vigilante who goes by the name of V (Hugo Weaving), she finds herself dragged into the masked man’s plans to overthrow the country’s dictator, High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Told she cannot leave his stronghold for fear of compromising V’s vendetta, Evey eventually winds up playing protégée to her captor as the government attempts to track them down before November 5th, a date which V has marked for his own, historically relevant endgame. Caught in the middle is Detective Chief Inspector Eric Finch (Stephen Rea), chief of police for Scotland Yard, who remains forever one step behind his freedom-fighting assailants while slowly coming to suspect that all may not be as it seems in 2020 Britain.
My God Alan Moore is hard to please. While the general awfulness of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the shortcomings of From Hell might have earnt the visionary comic book writer a wave of audience sympathy, Moore’s general dismissal of any attempt to translate his work to celluloid has become very tired indeed. Not everyone involved has been so quick to remove their name from the end credits of James McTeigue’s retelling of the acclaimed comic, however, with original artist David Lloyd commending the film’s numerous successes. V for Vendetta is a movie I have watched every November 5th since its release on DVD, without fail, and a movie that never ceases to move me, impress or inspire me. It’s a classic.
Like all classics, however, it is not perfect: a subjectively personal favourite rather than a Film Studies mainstay. Lit like an episode of Eastenders, and featuring one of the worst affronts to the English accent ever committed to film, McTeigue’s vision is hardly a caress of the senses, the heavy handedness of the translation doing very little to pander to the fine tastes of Sight and Sound magazine or the snot-nosed preferences of broadsheet bourgeoisie. With its fancy dress and Benny Hill interlude, its heightened portrayal of government and its alleged confusion of Moore’s original thesis, the film is intermittently flawed and passingly unrefined; but what of the good? Is it entertaining?
Maybe it was a childhood weaned on Star Wars and Nickelodeon, but I have rather curiously found myself able to enjoy entertainment that doesn’t boast cellars of subtext, award-worthy performances and painstakingly naturalistic dialogue. Due to this ostensibly mutant talent, I have been occasionally able to look past the odd contrivance and overt instances of staging to the thriving heart of an otherwise captivating story. Moore’s creation is phenomenal, a taut and compelling slice of science-fiction political satire that paints a perfectly engaging – if simplified – portrait of neo-futuristic authoritarian dystopia.
Natalie Portman is quite simply superb as the transformative Evey Hammond. Though her performance might not match the considered excellence of Black Swan, she overcomes any early fumblings with a powerhouse metamorphosis that begins with the shaving of her head and the seizure of her humanity, and ends with the destruction of a landmark. As she is groomed and ultimately reborn as a result of her decision to aid V, she becomes one of the most actualised and liberated heroines in cinema. That said, this is undeniably Weaving’s movie. Hidden beneath the now-iconic mask and a bullet-proofed cloak, the actor nevertheless manages to engage with audiences to a truly heartbreaking degree. A phantom of the oppression, he is every bit as affecting as he is wonderfully articulate.
For V for Vendetta is an ode to the English language, a revelry in rhetoric that is every bit as stirring as the film’s unconventional emotional centre. At times verging on poetry, the numerous addresses and speeches that litter the narrative are as mellifluous as the film’s embrace of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, more than making up for the occasionally lacklustre dialogue. Whether he is crafting an alliteration with over fifty instances of the ‘v’ phoneme, or reminding a nation to remember a symbol from its past, V is the figurehead of a story which champions words and ideas as much as it does bullet-time knife fights; and let’s face it, while each is of course important, both are inevitably preferred.
Intelligent, articulate and wonderfully evocative, McTeigue’s V for Vendetta may struggle stylistically, but luckily Alan Moore’s vision is astounding enough to compensate. While you can watch any number of snow-dressed movies at Christmas, and anything from Meg Ryan/Matthew McConaughey/Katherine Heigl’s back-catalogue on Valentine’s Day, November 5th simply wouldn’t be complete without V for Vendetta. This is one comic-book adaptation that will never, ever be forgot.