After the twin “mehs” of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, the idea of watching something else Wachowski-related was the only big thing going against V for Vendetta. Fortunately, good early word allayed those fears and after watching the movie myself, I have to say it’s just about everything I could’ve hoped for.
There’s no doubt that some people will find the movie controversial, ignoring that it a) takes place in England and b) was based on a comic written back in the 1980s. But the fact remains that it’s a great action thriller that’s intelligent without soaring over the heads of its audience.
In a futuristic England where a conservative totalitarian government has taken control, a meek young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) has spent her entire life being afraid. One fateful night, though, she’s rescued by a mysterious masked man who calls himself V (Hugo Weaving). V is one who has the courage to stand up to the government, and his goal is to motivate Evey and others to do the same.
Call V a terrorist if you want–those in the movie certainly do–but remember that the root word of “terrorist” is “terror.” V doesn’t inspire terror here. The government, on the other hand, does, and there are plenty of examples of that.
They’ve made a theme out of the idea of V versus the actual man. V is not perfect. Though he seems not to have a past he is a man and flesh and blood, and as such occasionally makes mistakes. He didn’t start out wanting to change the country. He wanted revenge, and changing the country became a byproduct of that.
He is single-minded in his mission, but he’s not cold. Somebody like that we only expect to get to know as an idea. Getting to know him as a man, that makes you sit up and think. It’s clear that he cares for Evey from the first time he meets her, and later it develops into something more.
And they never, not once, remove his mask and show his face. (Other comic book movies should take note.) Hugo Weaving delivers a fantastic, sympathetic performance despite it being only voice and body language.
V for Vendetta is also a reminder of how well Natalie Portman can act. As Evey, she’s sort of an embodiment of the current generation of citizens. She’s been scared of the government her entire life, living with the constant knowledge that if she does or says the wrong thing she could disappear forever.
That fear changes through her interaction with V. At first she’s terrified of him, understandably so. But she gradually confronts her real fears, and she stops being so scared. Her shaved head is like an external symbol of that inner change. (Ooh, symbolism and a character arc!)
On the government’s side, there’s Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea), the policeman in charge of tracking down V. However, he has the nasty little habit of thinking for himself, and in trying to find V, he starts unlocking secrets that the government has gone to great lengths to keep.
A quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin kept springing to mind the entire time I was watching V for Vendetta: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” It wasn’t really applicable to the movie so much, but more to the events that led up to it.
Unlike most movies involving a totalitarian government that rules by fear, it doesn’t treat the general populace like “oh, poor civilians, you had no choice in what happened with your government.” It holds the people accountable for their choices in the elections, for trading liberty for safety.
However, it also gives them the chance to redeem themselves, and the chance to stand up to the real terrorists. The people have the opportunity to make the choice if they’d like to continue living safely in fear, or take back their future.
It says something about V for Vendetta that the characters and the themes stuck more with me than the explosions or the action sequences. Those are good, don’t get me wrong. But they’re supported here by a solid script and good characters, and together it makes a movie that will hopefully make people stop and think.
From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies. This is one of the reviews I originally wrote during that time.