For a while, Hollywood had returned to the conspiracy-theory vibe of the 1970s, when political dialect and public paranoia drove plot lines and inspired the creative minds of Francis Ford Coppola, Alan J. Pakula, and Sidney Lumet. I'm happy to report that the conversations prompted by Gaghan and Clooney are carrying over into 2006 with James McTeigue's V for Vendetta, an open rebellion against society's close-mindedness that's based on Alan Moore's incendiary graphic novel (though the irritable author has renounced any cinematic version of his work).
Moore probably will refuse to give McTeigue's vision a chance, but everyone else should attend in his stead. Set in London during a futuristic but undetermined timeframe, Vendetta introduces a masked terrorist known only as V (Hugo Weaving), who holds a grudge against the city's sterile, frightening, and all-powerful political cabinet (personified by a crusty John Hurt and assorted underlings).
It's intentional that V makes a Batman-inspired entrance at the film's start, plummeting into a dark alley to rescue Evey (Natalie Portman), the traditional damsel in distress. She's a gofer at the British Television Network, and an eventual pawn in V's larger scheme. As we investigate the terrorist's history, we learn of prisoner abuse at government detention centers, and unearth a revenge plot that ties together the script's timely messages regarding international freedom, government censorship, and the mistreatment of innocents for political gain.
McTeigue is a pupil of Matrix co-creators Larry and Andy Wachowski, who coincidentally serve as Vendetta screenwriters. The first-time director isn't nearly as crisp or confident as the Wachowskis, though the brothers manage to imprint their influence on the finished product. Weaving, who once played the ominous Agent Smith, dips into his memory banks of Matrix fight choreography whenever V needs to take his fight to a hand-to-hand level. And like the Matrix trilogy, Vendetta dedicates its energies to expanding deeper, more meaningful messages, remembering almost half-heartedly to include an explosion or two to snap people out of their shock comas.
The revelation in this revolution is Portman, my generation's most courageous and complete performer. Evey experiences an awakening in the face of hard truths, and Portman allows a roller-coaster of emotions to careen across her pristine face. Weaving, on the other hand, hides his stares behind V's gleaming harlequin mask and must win us over with his recognizable voice and inflection. Both actors show tremendous range.
The persuasive ideas found in the script prevail over the unavoidable comic-book clichés and the director's minimal learning curve. Vendetta tries too hard to humanize its antagonist, even as he performs destructive terrorist acts. V's lair is laden with priceless art. Classical music plays as he lectures Evey on the monstrosities of government. He adores Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, even though I see him more as a sci-fi Robin Hood, stealing influence from the rich and empowering the poor.
Last year's thought-provoking features shared two common bonds - the Academy recognized their achievements but audiences largely ignored the messages. Combined box office totals for Syriana ($50 million) and Good Night ($31 million) are decent but relatively tame. Can Vendetta, which marches along similar paths, expect the same chilly reception? Personally, I see no reason why not. Audiences don't go to the movies to hear the messages Vendetta feeds them. Please, America, I implore you: Prove me wrong.
I'll get even with you for this haircut!
Genre: Sci fi/Fantasy
Run time: 132 mins
In Theaters: Friday 17th March 2006
Box Office USA: $70.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $132.5M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Warner Bros. Pictures, Virtual Studios, Silver Pictures, Anarchos Productions, Fünfte Babelsberg Film, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, DC Comics
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%
Fresh: 173 Rotten: 65
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: James McTeigue
Starring: Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond, Hugo Weaving as V / William Rookwood, Stephen Rea as Chief Inspector Eric Finch, Stephen Fry as Gordon Deitrich, John Hurt as Chancellor Adam Sutler, Tim Pigott-Smith as Creedy, Natasha Wightman as Valerie, Rupert Graves as Dominic, Roger Allam as Lewis Prothero, Ben Miles as Dascomb, Sinéad Cusack as Delia Surridge, Eddie Marsan as Etheridge, John Standing as Bishop Lilliman, Imogen Poots as Young Valerie
As with his Formula One documentary Senna, filmmaker Asaf Kapadia cleverly uses archival footage to...
This declining franchise really needed a jolt to the head, but the producers disappointingly opt...
Resisting the temptation to capitalise on the camp value of these characters, Channing Tatum and...
Wacky enough to make us smile but never laugh out loud, this screwball comedy harks...
A relentless onslaught of violent action, this movie is notable mainly because there's a woman...
First-time feature filmmaker John Maclean takes a strikingly original approach to the Western, creating a...
Despite this being a film about Sherlock Holmes, the fact that it's not much of...
Both shameless and shamelessly entertaining, this relentlessly boyish movie carries on exactly as the TV...