Saturday, November 5, 2016

Movie Review: V FOR VENDETTA

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot! . . .
English Folk Verse (c. 1870) 

On this Fifth of November, in honor of Guy Fawkes Day and one of the greatest comic book films of all time, we bring you this review for the instant-classic 2006 film V for Vendetta. Adapted from a brilliant graphic novel by the incomparably brilliant Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd, V for Vendetta is a film directed by James McTeigue and written by the Wachowskis. It stars Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, and Stephen Fry. This film predominantly follows the character Evey Hammond (Portman) as she gets woven into an elaborate plot by the enigmatic character V (Weaving) to take down a tyrannical, totalitarian government that has taken control of near-future Great Britain.

There is simply no other way to describe this film than brilliant. It is incredibly subversive, thoughtful, and, most significantly, thought provoking. This is not a simple film by any means, certainly not an easy film. But it is in that complexity that this story is made great. It leaves a lot of questions about terrorism and oppression and how far we’re willing to go when the very foundations of freedom are eroded by cruel oppressors. As V eloquently says in the film, “[t]he people should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people.” Even in a free society this is a difficult message to fully appreciate but an important one that I think the outstanding structure of this story and jaw-droppingly incredible dialogue deliver with a poignancy that even some of the greatest films ever made fail to achieve. As with the original story, it is the writing that makes this film what it is, and the Wachowskis absolutely struck the nail on the head with this adaptation.

The brilliant writing could only get so far without equally stellar performances and solid direction. Natalie Portman delivers one of the best performances of her career in this film and Hugo Weaving, without ever showing his face, is equally gripping. Both show levels of vulnerability and power that lesser actors never could have and it has a power that affected me right to my core. The supporting cast leave everything on screen as well. John Hurt is brilliantly despicable, Stephen Rea inquisitive and interesting, and Stephen Fry philosophically engaging. The direction in this film is also particularly strong. I have no idea what happened to this James McTeigue as he has never come remotely close to replicating the quality of the work he delivered here. Everything meshed well together and he moves the camera through the scenes fascinatingly that always drew you into the moment and made the film all the more meaningful.

Watching this again and again, I find myself noticing (or focusing on) new things each time. Today it was definitely the music. The way it dribbles in songs like “Cry Me a River,” as covered by Julie London, induced goosebumps in the quieter moments, and then the way it explodes with the orchestral “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky just lifts you up and fills you with power. I also felt that the film shows off oppression by accentuating problems that certainly exist in many places (even free nations) today. We saw total oppression of things like religion (if you’re not Christian) or homosexuality and it just hits you like a ton of bricks. This film is meant to challenge, and on a basic level these things do challenge the audience in the way they think.

The greatest challenge in this film, especially for the era in which it came out, was getting an audience on the side of a political terrorist. V is a guy who promotes and commits horrifying violence and destruction and watching his first act of terrorism where he blows up Old Bailey you’re really uncomfortable about it as an audience member. But as the film unfolds, and layers of the terror the government itself is committing on its people, you come to his side and are joyous when the film comes to its eventual conclusion. This is a tough thing to do, and especially in a post-9/11 era where people were (and still are frankly) very sensitive about terrorism, to really bring people to the side of a political terrorist and it was done perfectly in this film.

There really isn’t much of anything bad to say about this film. Each beat is essential and makes it all the more effective. V for Vendetta is a brilliant film and is certainly a masterpiece in its genre. One of the greats in every sense of that phrase and a much watch film both in terms of message and filmmaking. I highly recommend this to all, especially on this Fifth of November.

Ryan’s Score: 10/10

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