Scripted by Andy and Larry Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy), V For Vendetta is a razor-sharp cinematic reinterpretation of Alan Moore’s scathingly dissident 1988 political satire graphic novel set in a slightly futuristic Britain. Natalie Portman’s intense portrayal of a civilian polarized into rebellion anchors the movie.
At a point in history when George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 has been surpassed by a deceptive fascism some call “free trade capitalism,” V For Vendetta (written by Alan Moore between 1981 and 1988) comes across as a scathingly subversive political satire. The film seamlessly folds together elements of 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and The Diary Of Anne Frank with superhero mythology and a dash of spaghetti western to form a highly original story about the dangers of corruption, media manipulation and a pervasive government repression exercised through fear.
The screenwriters have reshaped the novel’s problematic protagonist Evey (Natalie Portman) as an intelligent and sensitive young woman who becomes a double victim of two different brands of Stockholm syndrome-one perpetrated by her violent government, and one by that fascistic regime’s most treacherous terrorist enemy. Just as the title implies, violence begets payment in the same coin. Although author Alan Moore has had his name removed from the film, V For Vendetta is by far the best film version of Moore’s stories, which include From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
After being rescued from a late night street hassle with government goons by a mask-wearing Guy Fawkes-inspired revolutionary named V (Hugo Weaving) Evey’s mysterious savior takes her on a rooftop date to witness the destruction of the Houses of Parliament-complete with fireworks. Evey soon helps V escape from the police after he stages an attack on the broadcast station where she works.
Debut director James McTeigue artfully mitigates the distraction of a character whose face you never see by focusing on the way other characters react to V, and by making the most of Hugo Weaving’s pitch-perfect enunciation of V’s incendiary dialogue. The story shifts through a troubling maze of events once V takes Evey into his confidence in his underground lair where he has collected cultural artifacts that were long ago confiscated from society and private homes by the government.
Flashbacks divulge V’s polarizing experiences as a prisoner of a government-operated concentration camp where he suffered an explosion that left him scarred from head to toe. V is an athletic esthete who uses only throwing knives against his assailants-an amendment to the graphic novel by the Wachowski brothers that references the working class weapon of the spaghetti western hero in Sergio Sollima’s seminal 1968 movie Run, Man, Run.
V For Vendetta is a glorious piece of pop culture subversive cinema that operates on manifold levels. On the surface, it’s a love story set in the depths of social despair, but it’s also a visionary tale of social uprising. As a reflection of the differences between freedom and repression, the movie provides a social terrain that seems more native than alien, and therein lies its central abstraction. You come out wanting to do something. MTW