V for Vendetta, like the Princess Bride, is one of those movies the internet wants me to watch. I can see why; the Guy Fawkes mask, the 5th of November, and a general will toward blowing shit up are all symbols the internet has adopted in recent years. It’s also another movie on my list I’ve been putting off watching for far too long. As it turns out, V for Vendetta, based upon the Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name, is a dark, dystopic vision with exhilarating acting and great performances, especially in its final third.
As a note, I’ve never read the graphic novel, so I’m not going to attempt to compare the film to it. I’m just going to discuss the film on its own. That being said, I understand the movie departed from the book in many ways and that Alan Moore refused to have his name attached to it, so let’s assume I would be complaining about it.
V for Vendetta takes place in the not all too distant future where fascism has gripped the nation of Great Britain after a war. Citizens are under constant watch, have limited speech and are often thrown into prison camps as punishment for minor crimes. Everyone has gotten pretty used to the general crappiness of the situation when a man donning a Guy Fawkes mask, who is known only as V (Hugo Weaving), blows up an historical landmark. He gains a reluctant ally in Evey (Natalie Portman), and through murder, revenge and spectacular knife throwing, attempts to dismantle the authoritarian structure of the nation.
The dystopian setting is set up frighteningly well. Most films from the genre (The Matrix, Total Recall) seem distant or impossible in their futuristic assumptions, but Vendetta is eerily close to home. An opportunistic dictator named Adam Sutler (John Hurt) has taken control of the British government in the aftermath of a war. He utilizes power and fear to institute tyrannical reforms dominating the lives of citizens. The media operates as a constant propaganda machine, police arrest without evidence and a curfew is placed over the entire country. However, most of the London we know is still intact, there are very few futuristic technologies and the day to day lives of the citizens are generally quite similar to ours; creating a frightening portrait of how close we are to this type of authoritarianism.
The film also showcases some fantastic performances. One of my favourites, Natalie Portman, delivers both a heartbreaking and inspirational performance as a TV studio assistant turned revolutionary icon. Hugo Weaving is also grand in what was basically a voice acting performance for him, as his face is never revealed in the film. Stephen Fry, John Hurt and Stephen Rea are also solid in their roles, rounding out what I found to be a surprisingly well-acted ensemble cast.
The film gets bogged down somewhat in the middle I found. After the intrigue of the first third wears off, Vendetta becomes slightly tied up in its attempt at a bonding of V and Evey, which I found was never well established. However, the last third picks up the slack. As the date of the impending revolution draws nearer, the film ramps up the pace before a grandiose and spectacular finale. Scattered with beautifully choreographed fight scenes, the last chunk of the film is action-packed, fun and intensely satisfying.
The cinematography of Vendetta is visceral and at times breathtaking. It is shot with such attention to detail it would take several viewing just to fully appreciate the visual marvel of the film. Bursting with reds, whites and blacks, most of which are in a shape of a ‘V’, V for Vendetta is certainly a treat for the eyes. The aesthetics of this movie are one of my biggest reasons to watch.
V for Vendetta isn’t the best film on my list so far, but it’s definitely a fun ride with some thought provoking ideas. Vendetta blends the violent and the tranquil, the tyrannical and the free, and the ugly and the beautiful to create a visual treat held together by some great performances, invigorating action and thoughtful imagery.