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Movie Review
'V is a deep, superbly executed film...' Opens March 17th

V For Vendetta
Dir: James McTeigue
Screenplay and Produced by: Andy & Larry Wachowski
(based upon Alan Moore's graphic novel and illustrated by David Lloyd)

Stars Natalie Portman, John Hurt, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Fry more...
Review by Roxy Williams and Clare Sager

The streets of London are ruled by Fingermen and there are menacing black megaphones on every corner. Films, books, TV shows, even music are on a blacklist - banned from public broadcast. Major artworks are hidden by the government and possessing a copy of the Koran is enough to get you arrested.

This is the Orwellian dystopia in which we find Evey (Natalie Portman on exceptional form) and the unlikely heroic anti-hero, V (Hugo Weaving sporting a fetching Guy Fawkes mask). V, indeed, stands for vendetta (and has a penchant for words beginning with v and a taste for the theatrical), and seeks vengeance against those who incarcerated and experimented upon him. The government has total power, they dictate news as well as lives, and this is what V has taken it upon himself to stand against.

Evey is initially swept along in V's wake, involved too deeply in something she doesn't fully understand. The government, headed by a chilling High Chancellor (John Hurt), decides how people act and think, and Evey is no exception. Despite what happened to her family, she is still naive about the government's practices as well as general life and death. Her shock at V's early actions (such as assassinations) are somewhat unbelievable considering her own past. Equally, this could be a comment on the power of the government, showing the extent to which they control the very thoughts in the minds of their citizens.

This film is based upon the graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd. After the unmitigated disaster that was League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (altered almost beyond recognition to please an American market), Moore chose to have his name excluded from all film adaptations of his work and has even given all royalties to the adapted novels' illustrators.

Moore need not have feared for V, since this character-driven speeding tube-train of a film is quite simply magnificent. According to one fan of the graphic novel and comic shop owner, the adaptation is "bloody brilliant". Even if you don't like comic books and shudder at the mention of superhero flicks, fear not: V is a deep, superbly executed film that draws terror not only from the actions of a terrorist, but from the very feasibility of the corrupt, totalitarian government he fights against.

Visually, the film is stunning. The atmosphere conjured by underground vaults filled with 'illegal' cultural artefacts and streets haunted by looming shadows is engulfing, the soundtrack is subtle except for moments of sheer brilliance when V cues Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture to be played as he blows up a major London landmark in a profusion of fireworks. The chemistry between Weaving and Portman is intense - surprising considering he spends the entire film behind a mask. Weaving's performance is impressive, using his voice and body (and a flowery apron!) to convey a complex character and his emotions. However, among the strong cast (including Stephen Fry playing Deitrich, a character practically written for him) it is Portman who steals the film. Although Evey at first seems like an underdeveloped character, Portman makes her believeable and extends her intense performance as the character comes to life. Evey draws us in - she is our connection with V; as she gets to know him and grows to like him, so too do we.

Yes, through this film we grow to like a murderer. We root for the freedom fighter. V blows things up and slices and dices with his array of knives, but he is a charming man as well as a terrorist. He is working for the greater good, encouraging the people of England to rise up against their cruel government, pointing out that, in the words of Edmund Burke, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. The beauty of the film is that we are led to question our perceptions.

Can violence be justified in the name of an ideal?
Who is the person behind the terrorist mask prescribed by the press?
Where is the integrity in this corrupt world?
Can we trust what we read in newspapers?
Can we trust our government - the very people we elect to represent us and shape our country?
Are there any coincidences?

This is not a film to watch before you go to bed - it will keep you awake at night with troublesome questions and nagging doubts. Scenes of Evey's torture (in an orange shift - no coincidence, surely?) are disturbing in their realism, but also in that they lead you to think of Guantanamo bay. Those men in orange jumpsuits are brothers, sons, fathers, friends. Perhaps they are being questioned and physically tortured, perhaps not, but through the humanity of Evey, we see that even just depriving a person of light and dignity, via the hoods they are forced to wear, is torture in itself.
This is the State of Terrorism: the place where fear reigns.

These questions are all part of the appeal of V For Vendetta. It refuses to play Hollywood's black and white, good and evil game. V is not a superhero or a villain: just as we empathise with him and start to throw our fists in the air and shout 'right on!' we get a sharp reality check with a scene of bloody violence and corpses. The film is refreshing and yet represents terrifying oppression.

As V says: people should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people. Perhaps El Presidente Bush should watch this film. You definitely should.

© Clare Sager and Gemma Roxy Williams March 15 2006

Clare and Gemma are Creative Writing Majors at the Univesity of Portmsouth

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