V for Vendetta, Dir. James McTeigue

Warner Brothers

Starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, John Hurt, Stephen Rea

Reviewed by Jehoshaphat

The directorial debut for James McTeigue, V for Vendetta is a film based on the V for Vendetta comics published by Vertigo. The film is set in the near future and Britain is governed by a regime not unlike the Party from George Orwell's 1984. The story centres on Eve (Portman), who has suffered the loss of her parents to the authorities and her brother to a biological attack by terrorists. She meets V, a man who has concealed himself with a Guy Fawkes mask. Eve befriends V after he saves her life, and is embroiled in his attempts to murder key individuals who are responsible for cruel and lethal experiments on live human subjects, of whom V is the only survivor.

The film is well directed, authentic and captivating—at least from a visual perspective. It nestles itself into the audiences' attention by combining the most memorable (if not the best) parts of Orwell's masterpiece with an atmosphere which is very familiar to Londoners. This is a very modern day 1984, at least in part, and that works extremely well. The themes and issues that are raised are thought provoking and shamelessly, if not blatantly thrown at the audience, in the first half of the film.

However, the film does not maintain its attention grabbing allure much beyond the first half. It very quickly starts to be unravelled from a well developed and beautifully crafted world, and descends into a very dark and insular exploration of the limits to which human endurance can be pushed, as Eve is tortured to confess her knowledge about the 'terrorist' V, which she does not do. The experience she undergoes turns Eve into a free thinker—or so the screenwriters were trying to portray. What happens is, while heart rending and emotionally intense, a very bizarre and ultimately flaccid result—interest is quickly lost in the enigmatic character of V, and the unimaginative and unassuming Eve, as they both turn into mindless facilitators of a plot which has lost its path and broken from its routes. Surprisingly, Portman does not manage to portray the character of Eve in terms of the change in personality after her torture, to her acceptance of the part she plays in V's plan. Interest in V plummets because he turns into an all out action hero, and fulfils his plan.

The last quarter of the film left this viewer with a feeling of boredom. There are several briefing sessions by Chancellor Suttler throughout the film, where his face appears before his main advisors on a vast screen. These scenes are well shot and the cast, especially John Hurt, are superb in each of their roles. In the last quarter of the film, these scenes are so frequent and repetitive that they become tiresome. The destruction of the Houses of Parliament at the end is pointless, and at the very worst, a gimmick, as V's plan has succeeded already.

This is an important film in many respects, but ultimately, it appears that the writers have believed the hype that they seem to be criticising. At any rate, the interpretation of the ending of the film would seem to suggest that. This film starts off brilliantly, but for all of its beautiful effects, acting talent and potential, ends up feeling empty and even pointless. If Orwell is to be treated in this way, the reinterpretation of the themes he tackles needs to try and equal, if not surpass his conclusions. V for Vendetta borrows much, and amounts to little. That is not to say it is without its moments, and special mention needs to go to Stephen Rea for his character’s laid back, gentle and humorous portrayal, and Stephen Fry for a charming cameo.

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