In 1605 a revolutionary in England named Guy Fawkes had an idea to blow up House of Lords, also known as Parliament. He was arrested for treason and executed, but the ideas behind the plot still stand. Now it is 2032 and the world is in chaos. The United States as we understand it no longer exists, and the United Kingdom is under a fascist rule with a man named Adam Sutler serving as Chancellor. During the height of Sutler’s rule, a young, naïve woman named Evey Hammond is out on the streets past curfew. She gets caught by some unsavory members of the government’s secret police, called Fingermen, and before they get a chance to do some truly horrific things to her she finds herself rescued by a very unusual man dressed entirely in black and wearing a mask resembling Guy Fawkes, who then dispatches these men with a flashy display of martial arts and knife-wielding. He takes her to a rooftop where he shows her the destruction of London’s main criminal court, a building referred to as the Old Bailey, while the climactic movement of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is blasted over the city’s Public Announcement system. Her rescuer goes by the name V, and it is the 5th of November.
V for Vendetta has been a favorite of ours for some years now. Admittedly we embrace some, and I must emphasize some, of the political messages that are delivered here, however, I will not use this review to endorse or condemn any of those messages from the movie, rather I wish to address how this movie is put together.
Making movies that address political and social issues can be controversial at best, and I don’t doubt that V is one of them. Written by graphic novel genius Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, the graphic novel was wildly embraced by fans who some might argue are more open to such story content. However, to adapt a story like this for the big screen does allow for the possibility of becoming divisive. The fact that it came out just 4 years after September 11, 2001, certainly earns it an amount of scrutiny with some audience members possibly drawing comparisons with some of the subject matter to the current events of the time. Then there is the matter of V himself. Here we have a man labeled as a terrorist. However, one man’s terrorist might be considered another man’s freedom fighter. This movie does not try to define who V is, rather it simply raises the question for conversation, and that is probably this movie’s greatest strength. While the action and visuals are spectacular, the subject matter is controversial and it does create room for conversation.
Written by the Wachowskis this story is highly condensed from the original graphic novel. Alan Moore is famous for writing compelling stories that are multi-layered giving it a density that might sink another piece of work through to the Earth’s core, but Moore’s talent is in knowing how to tell his story so that the reader doesn’t become overwhelmed or buried by it. However, that does not work for a movie, so the Wachowski’s had a very daunting task in trying to bring this down into a story that could be easily watched on the big screen, all the while maintaining the story’s heart. Along the way, several changes were made, most notably in the portrayal of Evey as performed by Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman. Instead of being just some bland character as written in the graphic novel, Evey here becomes the unwitting accomplice to V, eventually going through a series of challenging events that help to forge her into something of a counterpart to V. This all comes to fruition in a moment of almost Biblical imagery where we see the character who would become V as he emerges from fire, while the person Evey would eventually become emerge from water and rain.
The movie also slightly departs from the graphic novel with its focusing on the complicated relationship between V and Evey. By doing this they sort of humanize V in a way that makes his character even more complicated, adding to the question as to what type of man V really is. As for V we have multi-faceted actor Hugo Weaving behind the mask, or at the very least providing the voice for V. It may not provide much of an acting tour de force for Weaving, but his wonderful voice, as he applies a respectable English accent, helps to make the character of V most memorable even when he is only engaged in conversation. I would suggest to viewers that if you are to ever watch this movie, please do it with subtitles on. Most of the dialogue is pretty easy to understand, but V is written as a very intelligent man, who is both cultured and educated. Sadly, the movie never goes deep into his origin as to who he was before becoming V. In any case, the Wachowskis wrote such amazing lines for him that in order to keep up it was necessary to have the subtitles turned on, so I would recommend the same for you.
There are some other incredible performances here. As Sutler, we have the always amazing John Hurt. While he has played the widest variety of characters, he is at his most evil here. I suspect that if he had ever wanted to become a political leader while he was alive he could found a way to rally some very strong support. This is followed by one of his government workers, a man known as Creedy as played by the always creepy Tim Pigott-Smith. Then there is Roger Allam who plays the political talk show icon Lewis Prothero, and wow, he comes off as incredibly despicable. This is a credit to Allam’s acting as there were times where I actually believed that he was speaking from the heart. That my friends is committing to the part!
This movie also has Stephen Fry who plays the opposite of Allam’s Prothero, as Gordon Dietrich, the lovable host of a nighttime talk show in the style of Johnny Carson. His is an unusual character playing a closeted gay man with tastes that some might consider unsavory and immoral, as well as a dash of style and sophistication. Of the main players that leaves Stephen Rea, who played Chief Inspector Finch. It is not lost on this critic that as a man who is there to enforce the law he finds himself having to balance the scales of justice as he digs through conspiracies and lies to get to the truth, all so that he can find V, and Rea plays that part perfectly. The result of all of this is more than just an action film adapted from a graphic novel. This is a film with some amazing actors, all of whom bring their collective “A” Game to the table making V for Vendetta one of the most enjoyable movies in our library.
Even as the movie ends and Evey tells Finch who V is, the moment is told with such poetry and power, that after years of watching it still brings tears to my eyes.