Friday, July 13, 2012

Movie – V for Vendetta (2005)

The movie V for Vendetta is based on the 1980s graphic novel of the same name.  It was written by Alan Moore (Watchmen), but he refused to allow his name to be used in connection with the film because, well, he’s kind of a grump.  In this case he didn’t like the fact that the movie character of V was a rebel instead of an anarchist like in the graphic novel – a distinction that few movie viewers would have been able to make anyway.  The movie had far larger challenges than the lack of approval by the original author: it had to convince people to like, or at least understand the viewpoint of, a character that was essentially a terrorist.  This was especially challenging with 9/11 having just happened four years earlier.

The film stars Natalie Portman as Evey and Hugo Weaving as the title character of V.  Weaving had to do all of his scenes behind a Guy Fawkes mask, which is quite a challenge for an actor.  In fact, James Purefoy was originally cast as V, and filming had even been going on for a couple weeks, before he was replaced by Weaving.  Reportedly, some of the scenes of V in the film are actually Purefoy with Weaving’s voice dubbed over him.

The story is set in the near future in an England controlled by a fascist government that came to power in the aftermath of a horrible biological contamination.  This government is ruled by Adam Sutler (John Hurt) as the brain, and his five lieutenants: Chief of Police Eric Finch (Stephen Rea) as the nose; TV broadcaster Roger Dascomb (Ben Miles) as the mouth; audio surveillance chief Brian Etheridge (Eddie Marsan) as the ears; Secret Police chief Peter Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) as the hands (his agents are even called “Fingermen”); and CCTV chief Conrad Heyer (Guy Henry) as the eyes.  I’m sure that the casting of Hurt was intentional in order to draw comparisons to his film 1984, which is also based on a book about an all-controlling government.

V for Vendetta opens in the early 1600s when a man known as Guy Fawkes unsuccessfully tried to blow up the British Parliament.  This was on the fifth of November.  On November 5th of the year the movie is set in Evey leaves her apartment to visit someone.  On the way she is accosted by a couple of Fingermen who give her a hard time for breaking curfew.  Evey tries to get away, but they end up trying to rape her.  These men are killed by a mysterious figure in a black cloak who wears a Guy Fawkes mask.  He introduces himself as V.  (His intro lines are the quote I used for the Attack of the V movies parent post.)

V takes Evey to the roof of a nearby building because he says he has something special he wants to show her.  At the stroke of Midnight he detonates an explosion that destroys the Old Bailey – an iconic government landmark in London.  Evey is horrified.  The government heads quickly convene and come up with a cover story for the explosion.  They also examine video footage and soon identify Evey.

The next morning she is at her job in the broadcasting station.  Government agents enter to take her into custody, but at the same time, V also strikes there, taking control of the station.  He forces them to broadcast a message from him taking credit for the explosion and telling everyone that he will have something even bigger planned for Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) one year from then.  He talks about how the government is corrupt and that the people need to take back their freedom.  Instead of the people being afraid of their government, the government needs to be afraid of its people.

During all this chaos Evey is knocked unconscious and V takes her with him to safety.  She wakes up in his “lair” and doesn’t find it to be anything like what she expected.  She gets the bad news, though, that he can’t let her leave since she would be immediately arrested by the government and tortured for anything she could tell them about V.  She’s unhappy, but over the next few weeks she starts to come to accept it.  V tells her of his plans and she even starts to help him get small measures of revenge against some people.  During one of these she gets separated from him, but manages to make it to the apartment of her boss, Gordon Dietrich (Stephen Fry).  It was him she was going to see the night she was saved by V the first time.

Dietrich and Evey compare notes and realize that neither likes the government.  Dietrich shows her a secret room where he keeps banned items, including homo-erotic images and a centuries-old Koran.  He is gay – something outlawed by the government, but he is not Muslim – which is similarly outlawed.  Either one carries a sentence of death, so he is taking her into his trust.  He lets Evey know that he is going to have a special broadcast.  When it airs, it makes fun of Cutler’s inability to stop V.  It is done in a style that will be familiar to anyone old enough to have watched The Benny Hill Show.  This was not a smart move, and Fingermen come for Dietrich that night.  Evey is captured while trying to escape.

She wakes up in a cell.  After refusing to answer questions her head is shaved, she is given rags to wear, and she is thrown back in the cell.  She soon finds that someone in the cell next to her has scratched a small hole between them and can pass messages to her.  This woman tells Evey about her life and as time goes on Evey’s whole existence becomes this woman’s.  When the woman is killed, Evey is devastated.  She may have not liked the government before, but now she hates them with a vengeance.  When she is told she must talk or be put to death, she chooses death.  Things then get complicated.

I won’t go any further on the plot in order to not spoil some good surprises.  The movie does show what happens to both Evey and V, and it concludes on November 5th of the next year.  It also shows V’s origin and what has been driving him to take action against the government.

Stylistically, the film is like The Matrix, and this is intentional.  The Wachowskis adapted the screenplay and served as Producers.  The film was directed by James McTeigue, who had been the First Assistant Director on the Matrix movies.  And of course, Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith) plays V in the film.  While this is not The Matrix, McTeigue didn’t shy away from challenges in his first film.  Among the difficult scenes he shot is the one where Portman’s head is shaved.  It was done for real, in real time, with Portman still acting in character and crying.  Obviously, this scene could only be shot once, so everybody had to nail it the first time.  They did.

Speaking of “V”s, there are a ton of them spread throughout this film, and they are used in many different ways.  “V” is also the Roman numeral for 5 and there are many sets of 5s to be found in the film as well.  The final attack starts at 11:05, which on the face of a clock forms a V, and 11 and 5 are also the date (November 5th) of the attempt by Guy Fawkes to destroy Parliament.  V’s introduction to Evey contains dozens of words starting with the letter V, and even Evey’s name echoes this.  It is pronounced “eee-vee”, E is the fifth letter of the alphabet, V is the Roman numeral for 5, and Y is the 25th letter of the alphabet (5 times 5).  There are many other patterns like this in the film if you look for them.

V for Vendetta is a film that works on multiple levels.  If you just want to see some decent action and special effects, then this movie has them (although not as much as The Matrix).  If you want to delve a little deeper into what it means to have freedom, and what you would be willing to do to achieve that, then this film has it.  Finally, the film presents several moral and ethical questions in regards to V’s actions.  Does the end justify the means?  While it may be black and white for some people, I think most viewers of the film will at some point be made uncomfortable either because a character they like does something they do not like, or because they find themselves agreeing with actions that they would not expect themselves to agree with.  Unless you don’t like movies with these elements, I highly recommend this film.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. I really like the movie, great review! It's not just cool action scenes but also very good acting and truly atmospheric world. The scene with the head shaving was great and kudos to Portman for such a big sacrifice, though she is so gorgeous she still looked great. Spot on on those V symbolisms everywhere in the movie, I really liked it. The scene that touched me the most was the one with the letter Eve found in the cell.

  2. Ah... I was waiting for you to get to V. Nice review of an excellent movie! It's easily the most faithful adaptation of Moore's work to date, even though he washed his hands of it. I also liked your mentioning of the 1984/V parallel. It was an inspired bit of casting to place John Hurt in the "Big Brother"-like role.

    I agree with Sati, that the scene with Evey reading the letter was quite heartbreaking.

  3. @Sati and Barry P. - Thanks. I also agree on that scene with the letter being the most moving in the film.

  4. Great review, there are three moments in the film that I find truly moving.
    Evey having her head shaved
    Evey's reading of the letters
    And when Evey emerges into the rain and begins to cry

    1. Thanks. I agree on all three of those scenes. Portman did quite a good job in this film, didn't she?

  5. I've always liked this film, and I liked the original story. What really strikes me about this film, though, is the guts it took to make it. Four years after 9/11, an American film company created a film in which a terrorist (essentially) is the hero.

    1. Agreed. When I heard they were going to make it, I was surprised because of the timing of it.

  6. There is a lot to love about V for Vendetta, and watching inspired me to check out the graphic novel afterwards, which I also enjoyed.

    My only complaint is I think the filmmakers tried to cram too much from the comic into the script, very dense viewing. There are a lot of blink and you’ll miss them sequences, which I didn’t notice until my second watch. In fact, I think I could rewatch this movie 5x and not grow tired of it ( :

    I agree with Honeywell in comments, very brave putting this movie out which is almost subtlety educational. V is a hero, but also a terrorist, so we the audience must try and understand his mindset as a terrorist. It’s all about point of view, one man’s terrorist is another mans freedom fighter.

    1. Thanks for your comments. There is a lot to see in this film. I just picked it up on Blu-ray so I may be watching it again soon.