Friday, November 5, 2010

In observance of Guy Fawkes Night...

V for Vendetta (2006)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, and John Hurt
Director: James McTeigue
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In the chaotic world of the near future, Great Britain is ruled by a facist government led by the charismatic Adam Sutler (Hurt). Sutler's government controls everything from top to bottom--the schools, all media outlets, the police, everything--but when a radical, flamboyant terrorist known only as "V" (Weaving) starts a one-man war against the government, Sutler senses the danger and unleashes the might of the government against him. But "V" outsmarts the authorities at every turn, including the loyal civil servant Chief Inspector Finch (Rea). But as Finch investigates "V", he uncovers such dire implications about his government that he finds himself wondering if "V" may not be in the right.

When this film was first released, I saw many people refer to it as an instant classic. I didn't believe that to be the case then--even setting aside the fundamental stupidity of the statement--and I believe it even less now. The movie adaptation has the same problem the graphic novel upon which it is based had... too much of both are ham-fisted screeds against political trends of the moment (the graphic novel railed in a nearly hysterical fashion against British politics of the 1980s, and the movie goes out of its way to take juvenile and simpleminded jabs at American politics of the early 2000s) with too little timeless commentaries on the issues of government vs. personal freedoms and what is right and wrong in politics and society.

(That said, the world of the movie does feel as if it's a tiny bit closer now, at least as far as the absolutely worthless media goes, especially here in the United States. Never have so many journalists been so eager to do the bidding of the politicians.)

Having recently "V for Vendetta", though, I remain confused about why Alan Moore (the writer of the graphic novel) hated it so much. The film captured the essense of the original book just fine. Is it because the filmmakers fleshed out the character of Evey (Portman) with a somewhat overly melodramatic backstory? Is it because the movie was so faithful to the core of the graphic novel that they turned out an adaptation as dated as the original book is, thus showing that the Emperor wasn't wearing much in the way clothing? (Don't get me wrong... "V for Vendetta" is well-written, and I enjoyed reading it, but it's no different than the "Captain Marvel Jr." comics of the 1940s as far as the relevance it's going to have to future readers. Heck, it might even have less, because David Lloyd is no Mac Raboy.)

At any rate, the film features some nice performances--Portman and Rea are particularly excellent in their parts--and its few action scenes are well done as well. Unfortunately, the film exposes a difficulty in translating a comic book character to the screen... what looks cool on a printed page can come across as lifeless or silly when its set in motion. This is the case with "V", the vengeful terrorist at the center of the story. The Guy Fawkes mask and pilgrim get-up was spooky in the comic, but it borders on goofy here.

This isn't a bad film, but it's going to be embarrasingly dated in just a few years. (Come to think of it, the movie will be even more dated than the graphic novel because it's even more ham-fisted and simpleminded in its criticism of increasingly distant blip in history.)

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