Not the action movie I was expecting it to be, but instead a to-the-point and thrilling political commentary with some very good action sequences, "V for Vendetta" is a quality film that doesn't always hit dead-on, but comes close quite often. The third act is especially strong, at least from a cinematic perspective.
Natalie Portman stars in this futuristic action-drama about one year in an England that is led by a totalitarian ruler who is a mix of President Bush and Adolf Hitler. Through terrorist attacks, wars and biological attacks, Prime Minister Adam Sutler (John Hurt) carefully used fear to increase his power and eliminate his enemies, until he was named High Chancellor to eradicate the problems in society. The problems in society - homosexuality, Muslims and dissent in general - were removed, with the small price being freedom and liberty.
Portman plays Evey, a seemingly innocent woman who is one day saved from a gang rape by V (voiced by Hugo Weaving), a masked intellectual who excels at fighting and who has a plan - in exactly one year, he will bring down the government and insight a rebellion that will restore common sense to England.
"V for Vendetta" is based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, who, as with all movie adaptations of his work has disavowed any involvement in it, but more so it is a glaring commentary of our times. Slowly, through fear, war and terrorism, the current administration has grown in strength and reach, the Patriot Act being the perfect example. Republicans have waged a direct war at homosexuals, because, obviously, they are more dangerous than guns. The religious right are able to stop almost anything they deem morally wrong. It is for these reasons, for the very fact that "V for Vendetta" hits so close to home, that it succeeds.
In all fairness, "V" is not the extraordinary film I was hoping it to be - it is not the next "Matrix." It is good, but needs improvements in places. It has its slow parts, and it has its pointless parts, and it doesn't develop certain characters as much as it should have. But, regardless, "V" has several things going for it: it looks great, it is exciting and it is scary - the real world is not so far away from the world represented here.
Most impressive is that "V" devotes a large chunk of time to homosexuals, something that was certainly not advertised and something that will certainly be divisive. "V" directly links persecution of homosexuality to ignorance and stupidity. Even "Brokeback Mountain" doesn't do that.
As a movie in general, it looks very good, especially for a film made on a "smaller" budget of $50 million or so. The demand for special effects is actually pretty minimal, as the movie is less an action movie and more a suspense drama. There are a couple gigantic explosions, an awesome fight sequence at the end and... well, Natalie Portman shaving her head.
Portman is good but not great in the movie, and honestly she shaved her head for nothing. Her character is the least interesting of the bunch, and it is the character development that really hurts the movie. You can tell large chunks were cut out of the story as we never get to know Portman as much as we need to for us to really feel for her, and there are a barrage of other characters, including the High Chancellor, who do not get the screen time they deserve. The most interesting character is the police detective played by Stephen Rea, but even aspects of his story are missing. As for V, do they tell too much or too little? That's for you to decide...
The movie only has minor pacing issues, but there are a few moments earlier on that feel unfinished. However, by the time the third act gets underway, the movie speeds along incredibly well. The third act is amazing, to say the least. Perhaps not everything gets tied up or explained in a completely proper way, but director James McTeigue, in his directorial debut, certainly ties the musical score into everything perfectly.
"V for Vendetta" is not quite the masterpiece I was hoping it would be, but it comes close enough times to leave a vivid impression on my mind. Will it change the world the way at least half of us Americans want it to? Probably not, but it still kicks ass.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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