V for Vendetta
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V for Vendetta

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There is an old saying about radical military groups; if they are on side they are freedom fighters, if they oppose us they are terrorists and if we are undecided they are guerrillas. While this was originally intended with some levity recent events on the world stage has made it a guideline for global events. The fine line between freedom fighter and terrorist is explored with the film ‘V for Vendetta’. Set in the year 2020 after a viral plague has swept through the world. Most Americans are dead, the remaining people in the States left fighting a bloody civil war. The news is full of reports concerning looming epidemics that threaten to kill the survivors of the first plague. In England there has been a radical change in the structure of the government. The freedoms and peace enforced for so long by the Parliament has now been replaced by a draconian regime, Norsefire headed by Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). It seems that every day brings new restrictions and fresh intrusions of the government into the personal lives of the population. People who are deemed ‘undesirable’ are rounded up for the good of the state. What the state decrees as undesirable includes the homeless, homosexuals, intellectuals, foreigners, and anyone that dares to live their lives contrary to the mandated norm of the government. Some that are rounded up are turned over to a facility called Larkhill where in a dank room marked by the Roman numeral V genetic and other biological experiments are inflicted on the hapless victims. The typical outcome for the human guinea pigs is death but thanks to an unusual genetic makeup one man survived. His reflexes have been sharpened to the height of human potential but he has been left horribly deformed. The survivor vows to bring down the government and takes on the persona of ‘V’ (Hugo Weaving). He roams the city of London plotting he revenge, his deformed face hidden behind an almost comical mask of Guy Fawkes.

In England the 5th of November is remembered as Guy Fawkes Day. Back in 1605 Fawkes and several other citizens upset over the collaboration of church and state panned to blow up the Parliament. The plot was foiled and Fawkes was executed. On November 4th 2020, the eve of Guy Fawkes Day a young assistant to the local news station, Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is accosted by a gang of semi-police offices intent on raping her. Just as it looks hopeless for Evey in swoops a man in a mask and cape, V. He saves her and at midnight blows up the Old Bailey, London’s main criminal court. Since this is a totalitarian government they proceed to do what such governments do best, spin the explosion as a random act of violence. V breaks into the television station where Evey works and gets his subversive message out to the people. The government suspects Evey of subversion up and sends to Inspector Eric Finch (Stephen Rea) and his minion Dominic (Rupert Graves), to take her in. While at the station V once again comes to her rescue. V then sets out to kill the government officials that took him to Larkill. Evey by then is staying in his lair but when she learns he is committing murder she confronts him. He wins her over to his side but she is soon captured by Finch and Dominic who torture her for days, telling her that she will be executed if she doesn’t help them find V.

The writer of the original set of graphic novels, Alan Moore, has distanced himself from this film. He has stated in several interviews and statements that the direction the film took were different from his work and not what he intended. Still, the film does examine several issues that lately have been in the news. There is a fine line between being a freedom fighter and being a terrorist. The film considers the question of whether the ends justify the means if the government is so corrupt that personal freedoms are a distant memory. One statement made by V strikes home "it is not the people that should be afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of the people." When typically reasonable people are pushed beyond reason through an oppressive government do the people have the right to use violence to stop them? V had been tortured and experimented on by a government that should have protected him. While his actions are extreme he feels that he has the moral certainty and is able to justify them internally. While the themes explored here are complex they are set in a good old fashion action flick. There are enough explosions and violence to keep this film from just expounding on the relationship between a government and its citizens.

The cast here is nothing short of exceptional. Every actor was obviously fully dedicated to bringing their best to the screen. Natalie Portman has been giving audiences top notch performances since before she hit her teens. From Leon through the Star Wars prequels she has played fail looking young women that are able to find exceptional strength when the right circumstances arise. She plays Evey as with empathy that is able to draw the audience in and empathize with her. With out this empathy those watching would see Evey as just a young woman that strikes out against her tormentors. Instead Portman’s performance gives some depth to the role and we see someone that is caught in an unimaginably horrible world. Hugo Weaving is somewhat wasted in his role as V. The mask is almost comical and keeps the audience from seeing his very expressive face. In most of the roles he has had in his career Weaving was able to emotion through his facial expressions. The mask muffles his baritone voice making many of his impassioned speeches difficult to follow. John Hurt has come full circle playing the brutal leader Sutler. Back in 1984 he played Winston Smith, the victim of an oppressive government in the classic Nineteen Eighty-Four. Here is strong and foreboding as the leader of this regime. Stephen Rea is one of those actors that may not show up on top ten lists but he as never failed to give great performances. As the inspector he allows his character to grow in an organic fashion. When Finch discovers the truth behind the bioterrorism attack that ushered Norsefire into power you can see the internal turmoil that the man is undergoing.

The screenplay for this film was written by the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry, sometime before they came up with their most notable work, the Matrix series. Many of the themes and process found in the Matrix films are also employed here. They seem to like to play with perception, how the world is different depending on how you are forced to view it. James McTeigue worked as the second unit director for the Wachowskis in the Matrix films and this is his freshmen effort in the big chair. For a first time director he certainly demonstrates great talent with this difficult project. Instead of allowing the film to ramble on with a lot of political and social exposition the pacing is outstanding. For a film that clocks in over two hours it flies by keeping the audience entertained and enlightened every minute.

Warner Brother s hits a grand slam with this DVD release. The technical specifications are near reference quality. Please, forget the fact that there is a Pan & Scan version, stick with the widescreen version. When reduced to ‘fit your television screen’ much of the grand use of scenery is completely lost. The 2.40:1 anamorphic video has a color palette that is always perfect. The contrast holds together even in the darkest scenes. The Dolby 5,.1 audio fills the room. The sub woofer roars out with the explosions while the rear speakers provide a full, realistic ambience. This film is in one of the rarest of genres, an action film that is thought provoking. After you are entertained by the action you and your friends can spend hours debating the social themes. At last, something that challenges the eye and the mind.

 Remember, remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.

Posted 7/5/06

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