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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"V" for Vendetta

Evey Hammond: Natalie Portman
V: Hugo Weaving
Finch: Stephen Rea
Sutler: John Hurt
Prothero: Roger Allam
Gordon Deitrich: Stephen Fry
Creedy: Tim Pigott-Smith

'V' For Vendetta

'V' For Vendetta
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In a political environment that can brew controversy out of allegorical children's fables or a documentary about penguins, it is hard to imagine the intensity of feeling that will greet "V for Vendetta," a movie whose heroes are terrorists. One foresees news talk shows in which red-faced pundits denounce the filmmakers and call for boycotts. Given a film as entertaining and solidly crafted as this one, such attention could turn into strong boxoffice.

Of course, plenty of films -- particularly those set in dystopian futures like this one -- identify with revolutionaries. But most put heavy sci-fi clothing on their brave new worlds, while "V" takes pains to tie its reality to our own. Although based on a comic book, it isn't as heavily stylized as a superhero movie. Its score and production design, both rich and inviting, are heightened without suggesting that this near-future London is an outright fantasy, though the new government, a restrictive state led by John Hurt's Sutler, is draped in some awfully Nazi-ish iconography.

'V' For Vendetta
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If the film's look and feel refuse to flee from the real world, its dialogue takes every chance to connect to it. We are told about the recent past, that "America's war grew worse and worse, and eventually came to London." Hot-button terms like "rendition" are sprinkled about; dissidents are handled as in a third-world dictatorship; and our hero (who calls himself V) lectures citizens who have surrendered their liberties to a government that promised to protect them from terrorism.

As V, Hugo Weaving has the unenviable task of playing the entire film behind an immobile mask. He rises to the challenge, bringing the character to life with body language and his sonorously nimble voice.

V has a flair for the theatrical. He introduces himself to London on Guy Fawkes Day with fireworks and a symbolic bombing, then hijacks a television broadcast to announce that he will return a year later to destroy the Houses of Parliament. He suggests that citizens who feel oppressed by their rulers should join him there. And then he's gone, leaving some very anxious politicians in his wake.

The viewer's proxy here is Evey (Natalie Portman), who accidentally becomes a part of V's plans. With her, we work through many of the expected reactions to V's approach -- and if she eventually comes around to his way of thinking, the film certainly doesn't present the choice as an uncomplicated one. The filmmakers (Andy and Larry Wachowski adapting the screenplay, James McTeigue at the helm) are clearly on the vigilante's side, but they give viewers room to question his motives and methods: Has he psychologically programd Evey? Is the city of London about to become a war zone simply because V has a personal grudge? The serious tone "Vendetta" takes encourages such moral nitpicking.

Although some marketing materials aim to position this as an action film, viewers expecting a thrill ride might be disappointed. V engages in a couple of satisfying crime-fighting set pieces, but the story is more occupied with mystery and intrigue. Happily, it almost is entirely free of the hollow pomposity that marred the Wachowskis' last two "Matrix" films. Here, Alan Moore's graphic novel and the history of real-world oppressive governments is more than enough, leaving no need for the screenwriters to invent hokey mythologies and plenty of room to fantasize about revolution.

*Review by John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter


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