(R) 3 Stars

Ed Johnson-Ott

Natalie Portman as Evey and Hugo Weaving as V

Set a few years in the future, V for Vendetta opens with a masked figure announcing his existence to England with a bombing in London on Guy Fawkes Day, augmented by fireworks and classical music. Forcing his way onto the airwaves, he informs television watchers that he will blow up the House of Parliament in exactly one year and that anyone who also opposes the fascist government should come to see the explosion.

The hype for the film suggests that it will stir up a great deal of controversy because of its pointed political commentary and its sympathetic handling of a man employing terrorist tactics.

I suggest they are trying to drum up business for their movie.

Before critiquing the film (in case you're in a hurry, check out the last paragraph), there are a few things you should know. First, Guy Fawkes Day, celebrated in England with fireworks and bonfires, commemorates a failed attempt in 1605 by a group of Catholics, upset with their treatment by the government, to trigger an uprising by blowing up Parliament and King James I on opening day, Nov. 5, with a cache of explosives hidden in a cellar beneath the House of Lords. Word leaked out and dissident soldier Guy Fawkes was arrested as he entered the cellar. Fawkes was tortured and hanged (so were many of his cohorts), the failed plot resulted in harsher laws against Catholics and burning effigies of Fawkes became an annual custom.

Second, V for Vendetta was an acclaimed comic book by Alan Moore and David Lloyd that ran from 1981 to 1988 and was then published as a graphic novel. Moore, a highly-gifted author prone to dark tales involving conspiracies (including the remarkable comic book/graphic novel The Watchman), stated in an introduction to the book that "the government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality." Huh. The U.K. native demanded that his name be taken off the film adaptation of V for Vendetta because of his displeasure with the screenplay.

Finally, the screenplay in question was written by Andy and Larry Wachowski, the brothers behind the massive sci-fi hit The Matrix, and its two crappy sequels. Though they leave the directing duties to James McTeigue, assistant director on the Matrix films, they are also co-producers of V for Vendetta and their fingerprints are all over the movie.

Having read this information, I ask you to speculate how much of V for Vendetta is pointed political commentary and how much is florid, visually captivating hooey.

The story: England is ruled by totalitarian dictator Adam Sutler (John Hurt), who maintains his grip on the country by keeping it in a state of crisis. V (Hugo Weaving, Neo's most bothersome adversary in The Matrix), his identity hidden beneath a Guy Fawkes mask and, I think, a Cleopatra wig, is a revolutionary/terrorist/blowhard who really should cool it with the Shakespeare references and excessive alliteration.

Evey (Natalie Portman), the daughter of dissidents, sees her life turned upside down when V rescues her from a pair of wannabe rapists. Though grateful, she is appropriately wary of her foppish, but violent savior.

The film cuts back and forth between the uncomfortable relationship between V and Evey and the attempts of authorities - including Stephen Rea, Rupert Graves and Coupling veteran Ben Miles - to catch them. Along the way, vignettes fill in some of the blanks about the circumstances and the characters.

V for Vendetta is a moderately entertaining, highly stylized mystery/drama with impressive art direction and a muddled, overly talky script that is reminiscent of 1984 and Batman Begins. I was moved by a couple of the vignettes, but not by V, who was too broadly theatrical for my taste. The politics offer nothing particularly incendiary. Like most big-screen adaptations of graphic novels to date, V for Vendetta offers bold visuals, sweeping movement, but little that will linger after you leave the theater.


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