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V for Vendetta (2006)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

This film, based on the graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, has a screenplay adapted by The Wachowski Brothers which goes as far as any movie I recall in its anti-establishment themes. For an anti-statist film this movie has been ranked very highly by participants at the Internet Movie Database. I believe this film may be the best movie released in 2006. I cannot think of a movie in recent memory more thorough-going in its presentation of anti-state ideas.

The film has an “omniscient perspective” but generally focuses on following the actions of a small set of major characters. Each of those characters lends a different aspect to the movie. However, the omniscient perspective manages to knit those perspectives together in a way that makes the movie simple to follow.

From the point of view of the title character: V (Hugo Weaving) – whose unmasked face never shows and whose “proper name” the movie also does not ever reveal – the story concerns a quest for justice and revenge. Hugo Weaving does an amazing job with the character even though a Guy Fawkes mask covers his face during the entire film. By the end of the story the reason for V's search for revenge will be revealed, though at the beginning and through much of the film he may occasionally seem quite justifiably unsympathetic to many viewers. From V's perspective, this movie most resembles Dumas' tale of The Count Of Monte Cristo. Footage of the 1934 film version starring Robert Donat airs inside this movie.

V's revenge targets many important figures in the fascistic regime ruling Britain in this dystopian future. Of characters within that regime Police Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) easily merits the most sympathy. His perspective also provides another major point of focus for the film. Through Finch's experiences the viewer sees the leader of the future British Fascist state: Adam Sutler (John Hurt), acting as leaders of authoritarian regimes often do. For Finch, the detective, the film's story follows the general outline of a mystery to be solved. Finch pursues the terrorist criminal codename V. Through his investigation the viewer along with Finch discovers the background which shows the motives for V's quest for justice and revenge. Those events often assume a shape quite similar in outline, though not identical in shape, to events which should seem very familiar to people who even loosely follow headlines in today's news.

One might expect the title character to occupy the central focus of any film. However, in this film a different character gets more attention than V. From the film's opening to the final scene the character of Evey (Natalie Portman) receives the most script and camera attention. More than V, more than Inspector Finch, this film contains Evey's story. Evey's story concerns self discovery and liberation. Evey finds her freedom and a way of living which keeps her dignity in a world seemingly descending into oblivion. Part of this comes as “a gift” from V. However, Evey's discoveries and liberation necessarily involve her own participation. Evey centers the film and also has a point of view likely most similar to the average viewer.

The figures composing the Conservative/Fascistic future government of Britain often have a strange resemblance to figures in our own time and culture. From the film's head of state, to the right-wing media propagandist the mappings to today's figures seem quite easy to make. That similarity was heightened by the screenplay.

Alan Moore disavowed connection with the film for reasons he states best himself. Although I consider the book better than the film, I don't believe that situation particularly unusual to this pair. One can hope that the movie will lead more people to the book, but the movie alone has many merits. The film will reach many people who might not ever open a graphic novel or maybe a novel of any kind.

Although not as firmly anarchist as the book, the movie delivers an anti-state message which calls many government actions into serious question. From Stephen Fry as Evey's friend Deitrich to John Hurt as Sutler (an ironic role for the man who played Winston Smith), the actors give excellent performances. However, the major characters: V by Hugo Weaving, Finch by Stephen Rea and especially Evey by Natalie Portman, have outstanding portrayals. I give V for Vendetta my highest recommendation.

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