In the post-9/11 world, it seems that people are growing increasingly more suspicious of their governments and the media's representations of them. Ideals of freedom are called into question with every political event, and liberals and conservatives butt heads daily over the pressing issues. The current political state of being is examined in Andy and Larry Wachowski's new thriller "V for Vendetta." Based on the famed graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, the movie follows a mysterious freedom fighter in his assault on an oppressive English government. James McTeigue marks his directorial debut with this film, and a truly impressive one it is.
In the near future, England is governed by the fascistic Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt), a staunchly religious conservative with a personal agenda. Under his administration, freedom of speech is suppressed, and unwanted "degenerates" are used for all manner of grotesque experimentation. Some of these victims include Muslims, homosexuals, and anyone else who refuses to conform to Sutler's narrow view of an upright citizen. Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is a regular girl who just struggles to get by each day. She does well to mostly ignore the oppression around her and lead a fairly innocuous life. But when a masked figure who goes only by the letter V (Hugo Weaving) begins killing important members of the political party, she is forced to face the reality of the world and choose a side.
Following in the footsteps of the legendary Guy Fawkes, who on November 5, 1605 attempted to burn the Houses of Parliament in London, V plans to destroy the current administration on the upcoming anniversary. Sporting an ever-grinning mask and black cape, V sweeps through London with deadly vengeance in mind for those who submitted him to heinous torture. When he discovers Evey, he recruits her as a sort of terrorist-in-training. At first frightened of him, Evey begins to fall in love with his ideals of a liberated nation where people are free to choose their own lifestyle, but she remains wary of his violent means of bringing about that future.
The audience, too, is forever in doubt about the validity of V's intentions. There is no mistaking that the totalitarian government is evil, but the masked avenger is just as guilty of putting personal feelings before the good of society. He uses violence to fight violence, one of the very policies that he seems to despise about the government. This makes for a much more compelling story than many other political thrillers, as we never really know who to trust. V is a classic anti-hero, with just as many flaws as virtues. He mixes charisma and charm with a dark secrecy that keeps us in constant uncertainty as to who he really is.
The story is told primarily from the point of view of Evey, though a parallel subplot follows Inspector Eric Finch (Stephen Rea), who is assigned to find the mysterious killer and expose him. As he comes closer to the truth, Finch also starts questioning the sincerity of the government, something that could cost him not only his job but his life as well. He quickly learns that no one can be trusted as intrigue arises around him.
Although the graphic novel was originally published in England in the 1980s as a response to Margaret Thatcher-era politics, "V for Vendetta" fits perfectly well with post-9/11 sensibilities. Some have called the film an outright denouncement of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, but it touches on something much more universal than this. What we have here is an examination of what it means to be a free nation and what it takes to become one. Because of our anti-hero's ambiguous nature, the filmmakers acknowledge that the way to freedom has no clear path. We must be careful about who we choose to follow, whether that person is leading a nation or a revolution.
The depiction of the future society is admirably done from a realistic, no-frills approach. The London society in the movie looks essentially like the present, with no over-the-top contraptions or costumes. Satirical jabs are taken at public obsession with the media, and we frequently see the same groups of people glued to their TVs at home or at bars. Seeing this, I was reminded of Julie Christie's character sitting listlessly in front of her TV in another dystopian sci-fi movie, "Fahrenheit 451" (1966). The film also borrows much from the past, with political rallies and symbolisms that bear an uncanny resemblance to Hitler's public addresses.
The acting is uniformly fine here, with Portman in perhaps her feistiest role since "The Professional." Though her accent is sometimes shaky, she ably captures the full arc of her character, from blasé working girl to full-fledged activist. Hugo Weaving is equally good in his role as V. His is a wonderfully textured performance, made all the more remarkable by the fact that we never see his face. Once again, character actor John Hurt has thrown himself into his part, making his villainous character both chilling and realistic. Seen through the bulk of the film as a talking head on a large screen, Hurt takes what could have been a caricature and infuses it with enough humanity to make his evil deeds that much more despicable.
Warner Home Video has prepared a Two-Disc Special Edition for the movie as well as a standard edition. Presented in a 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the film looks fantastic. As with most new studio prints, the transfer is clean and free of dirt or blemishes. The movie features a generally muted color palette, but when bright colors are used (especially when Portman dons a hot pink skirt), they nearly pop off the screen. There is a good depth to the picture, with solid black levels and good contrast fall-off to render the abundant shadows. All in all, the image is smooth and beautiful to behold.
Audio is displayed in a 5.1 Dolby Digital track that makes excellent use of surround. Voices sound natural and clear, and the music is nicely underscored. We really get the full impact of the sound quality during the action sequences, especially at the movie's terrific climax. Explosions and sound effects pop out from every channel, making this a thrilling experience. Even through the heavy effects, the dialogue is never overpowered or drowned out. An alternate French track is provided in 5.1 surround.
In addition to the feature film, Disc 1 also contains a 16-minute featurette, "Freedom! Forever!: Making V for Vendetta." This is a nice little documentary with cast and crew interviews and lots of behind-the-scenes footage. For a movie like this, I hoped for something a little more in-depth, or at least an audio commentary, but it's not uninteresting.
On Disc 2, you will find three more featurettes. The first is called "Designing the Near Future." Clocking in at 17 minutes, this one takes a closer look at the design and construction of the fabulous sets and miniatures built for the movie. We also get some information on the mask and costume worn by V.
The next featurette, "Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot," is a 10-minute overview of the legend that inspired the graphic novel. Featuring interviews with scholars and historians, this is quite an informative bit that gives greater insight into the story, especially for American audiences.
"England Prevails: V for Vendetta and the New Wave in Comics" lasts 14 minutes and gives us a brief history of the source comic book. Co-creator David Lloyd is on hand to talk about the inspiration for the graphic novel and provide context about the comic book scene at that time. With this feature, we learn just how important "V for Vendetta" was in the resurgence of comic books.
After this, we get a music video for Cat Power's "I Found a Reason," which is featured in the movie. The video is made up entirely of film clips. Next we have some basic information on the soundtrack album. This second disc closes with a theatrical trailer.
"V for Vendetta" manages to succeed as both great entertainment and a thoughtful reflection on current politics. The futuristic society bears enough resemblances to our own for us to identify with the characters, ambiguous though they may be. The Wachowski Brothers have delivered another feast for the eyes and mind with this multilayered story of vengeance and honor. It is good to see such provocative material in "mainstream" entertainment that actually works without hitting us over the head. Warner Home Video has given the film worthy treatment, and whether or not you are a comic book fanatic, this is a must-see DVD with some good features to go along with it.