Friday, March 17, 2006

V for Vendetta - Movie Review

V for Vendetta

“Remember, remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
We know no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever by forgot”

In 1605, King James I of England’s Protestant court was almost decimated by a wily team of Catholic rebels’ intent on bringing down the monarchy and reestablishing Catholicism as the religion of the realm. They failed. Miserably. And for centuries since, British schoolboys can be found chanting the above refrain in celebration of “Guy Fawkes Night”, when they’re not busy drinking tea or sodomizing each other. And what has this to do with our current film under the knife at The Bloody Red Carpet? Patience children and you shall see.

The latest effects laden opus brought to us courtesy of the Mutt & Jeff of moviedom, The Wachowski Brothers is another in the lengthy line of film adaptations of graphic novels. It features Natalie Portman as an idealistic young television journalist / errand girl who stumbles across a masked terrorist in the dark streets of London who saves her from a grisly rape and possible murder by the local constabulary. How shocking! Policemen don’t rape innocent women! Ah, but we neglected to mention that this is London of the future, a generation hence where the political climate is decidedly totalitarian, and the populace a beleaguered downtrodden lot who have come to accept the strict regime imposed on them without question.

In the film’s fascist future, the United States of America is officially dead to the world, its people busy fighting a grisly Civil War. The free world has been decimated by a worldwide struggle against terrorism. A conservative government faction rose to the attention during the melee and took over - leveraging the fear that simple folk had against terrorism. They invaded countries without provocation, they exaggerated about the threats to national security, they targeted homosexual behavior as the poison dwelling within their society’s fertile breast and they bought shoes at Ferragamo’s when natural disasters struck their major port cities. Oh, wait. Now we’re getting confused. This is fiction! Graphic Fiction or rather Graphic Novels – to be precise. You know. Pow! Wham! Zap! And all that jizz.

While we have been enraptured in the past with some very fine adaptations based on graphic novels / comic books: “Superman”, “Ghost World”, “The Road to Perdition”, “From Hell”, “Batman Begins”, “A History of Violence” all come to mind. This current endeavor firmly belongs in the pulp fiction death camp alongside “The Fantastic Four”, “Batman & Robin”, “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” and “The Punisher”.

The plot is fairly straightforward and fairly derivative of far better “What If?” scenarios about a possible totalitarian. Not only do “Fahrenheit 451”, “Brave New World” and “1984” come to mind as the literary antecedents, there also exist very fine film versions of the Bradbury and Orwell tales and a plethora of superior films in the same genre. From “Brazil” to “Gattaca” to “Minority Report”. You would do well to go rent one of the above rather than waste your time and money on “V for Vendetta”.

As with many dark future scenarios – the repressive government is under attack by an underground freedom force movement intent on toppling the fascist regime. In a nod to British history (here is where our brief history lesson above comes into play.), the mysterious robe clad figure intent on restoring free thought is disguised in a Guy Fawkes mask and has apparently trained with Keanu Reeves and Jet Li to learn his fighting prowess.

While we never get a glimpse behind the mask, the vocal performance by Hugo Weaving may be the best thing in the whole movie. He finds the right balance of vigilante hero, ominous threat, freedom fighter and lover of the fine arts. And his underground lair is to die for! Seems that our mystery man is a connoisseur of the masters, being the proud possessor of such masterpieces as the Arnolfini Wedding! And he makes a mean fried egg breakfast sandwich. (Seriously, after the flick we ran home and made our own! Delish.)

While Hugo’s wonderful vocal turn works beautifully, Natalie Portman suffers from a slight case of miscasting. Natalie Portman has been growing up before our very cinematic eyes to become a quite lovely young woman who is certainly capable of delivering a solid performance, culminating in her Oscar nominated turn in Mike Nichols adaptation of “Closer”. Here, the poor bint is saddled with a pseudo-Posh British accent that makes her seem like the missing Spice GirlPretentious Spice. It isn’t a case of a bad performance, just a weak one. Her performance is ultimately as devoid of passion as the film. But one can hardly blame her, when she has such trite material and lackluster direction to deal with.

The supporting cast thankfully is composed of several extremely talented actors from the British Isles. Stephen Rea, the partner in crime to many a fine Neil Jordan flick co-stars as the lead detective in charge of apprehending our mystery “Guy”.

His partner is our long ago dreamboat, Rupert Graves who still looks yummy decades after his gay-for-pay turn in the very fine “Maurice”. (Yes, there were gay characters in well made dramas before our beloved cowpokes rode onto the cinematic range.)

The role of a popular television personality struggling to keep his sexuality a secret under the homophobic government is parlayed by that witty and talented Stephen Fry. And once we saw that Mrs. Jeremy Irons herself, Sinéad Cusack was undertaking the role of a government certified doctor, who harbors a few secrets of her own – we knew that the people in charge were at least capable of good casting.

And perhaps a knowing wink or two. For the role of the Nazi-like regime’s dictator is essayed by John Hurt, who twenty years ago portrayed the fabled Winston Smith in Michael Radford’s very fine version of “1984”.

Unfortunately for the film and for us, the powers that be were not capable of finding a director of any worth. We had no bloody clue who James McTeigue was. After a brief search – we realized why. He is not a director. Now, while many good auteurs started their careers as gophers and or key grips, we are willing to bet the farm on Mr. McTeigue not being one of them. From the mundane framing to the complete absence of pacing to the actual visual feel of the film – he continuously falls short. This is at heart a fantasy film based on a graphic novel that utterly fails to find any visual inspiration. There is not a single moment or frame onscreen that is memorable. While not every director can be as visually stunning as Terrence Malick or half has talented in the fantasy medium as a certain Mr. Spielberg or Mr. Jackson – they can at least attempt to tell a story cinematically without boring us to tears. (Oh! Before we forget, if you live in the New York State area, drop what you’re doing and hightail it over to Film Forum to catch their latest revival of the masterly “Days of Heaven” in a dazzling new print!)
V for Vendetta” is the kind of flick that has its heart in the right place, and its head up it own arse. While who amongst us wouldn’t support the right to freely express our opinion, and who doesn’t cheer for the underdog vigilante hero? But by the time this tired fantasy thriller had wound up to its listlessly predictable explosive ending, we were cheering for the bomb. We only wish they had spared the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben and bombed the screenwriter / producers and director’s houses instead.

It is truly a shame that the most visual and exciting elements of the film are to be found on the various poster designs, taking their inspiration from the famed Soviet propaganda posters of yore. Save your time and energy and go read the comic book instead. Bless you all!

Directed by James McTeigue
Written by Andy & Larry Wachowski
Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore & David Lloyd

Natalie Portman as Evey
Hugo Weaving as V
Stephen Rea as Finch
Rupert Graves as Dominic
Stephen Fry as Deitrich
John Hurt as Adam Sutler
Sinéad Cusack as Delia Surridge
Tim Pigott-Smith as Creedy

Film Editing by Martin Walsh
Cinematography by Adrian Biddle
Costume Design by Sammy Sheldon
Production Design by Owen Paterson
Art Direction by Marco Bittner Rosser, Sarah Horton & Sebastian T. Krawinkel
Set Decoration by Peter Walpole
Original Music by Dario Marianelli


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