Friday, 7 November 2014

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta (2005)

Starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving

Directed by James McTeigue

Despite being disowned by author of the original (graphic) novel, the perennially grumpy Alan Moore ("Watchmen"), weirdly bearded and shaggy-haired inhabitant of the metropolis of Northampton, it has to be said that this film is really rather good.  It tells the story of Evey (ee-vee) a young woman living in an oppressive dystopian future Britain (like Orwell on steroids), whom one night whilst breaking the government-imposed curfew meets the combat-skilled vigilante known only as "V", a masked avenger seemingly keen on destruction of the status quo, who rescues her from a pair of assailants. Having saved her from grievous assault, and gradually befriends her, eventually taking her into his home, protecting her when anarchic terrorist attacks hit the capital.  Masked and gloved, which he claims essential due to prior injury, we never see his face or eyes or hands.  His smiling "Guido Fawlkes" mask has since become the icon of rebellious hacker group "Anonymous", and indeed more broadly the generally disgruntled, as witnessed at the recent protests in Central London).  Life imitating art?  Nevertheless.  The Government here is terrifying, oppressive, intrusive and violent.  Their control of the media is total, There's a High Chancellor, in place of a Prime Minister, who seems to rule all without censor, and who proves to be viciously vindictive. The connection between Evey and V is cemented, and not just through their names.

"V for Vendetta"'s depiction of the way in which society is gradually inching is terrifying.   It's slowly recognisable, but tweaked to 11 on the nastiness scale so that it's impossible to switch ones brain off whilst watching this film and just settle down for a dumb action-movie. This is a wake-up call for the brain-dead: Look Around You.  The 13 year old, fruitless "war on terror" impinges on our freedoms at every turn, takes the lives of our young men and women, and seems to have done little to reduce Jihadist plots here in the UK, recently - tragically - France, and elsewhere in "the West". The affordability to think for ones-self seems to diminish daily, whilst the chance to voice trivial bullsh!t on Facebook seems to increase, and increase in priority, by the moment.  Where is it going?  The rage expressed by this film, already provocative,  ratchets up.  The plot takes a gigantic turn when Evey is arrested by the state, and forced to undergo months of torture.  Will her spirit survive?  Is the price of dignity death?  It plays out fascinatingly, and the twist at the end (I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that there's a twist - I just won't tell you what it is) is fantastic.  There's also a genuinely shocking scene in which a character is dragged from bed by armed state-run goons in the middle of the night, which only becomes tragic when the shock has died down.  The crime that sees them sentenced to death?  Owning an antique Koran.

This film, although lacking the stylistic flair of the "Matrix" films, has the Wachowski's fingerprints all over it.  Director James McTeigue has been an assistant on several of their films, as well as "Star Wars: Episode 2" and Alex Proyas' rather magical "Dark City" from back in the 90s.  It barrels along rather nicely, and future-London looks just enough like a matte painting to be ethereal and beautiful, but not too computer-generated.  The Cinematography by veteran Adrian Biddle ("Aliens", "The Princess Bride", "Thelma & Louise") is flawless; it perfectly evokes the slightly artificial feel of a graphic novel (ie a grown-up comic book) with a realistic street-level view of future London.

Portman is simply fantastic as Evey.  Easily rivaling her performance in the role of the emotional wreck she played in "Black Swan", here she plays a different kind of victim... or should that be survivor, or champion?  The imprisonment and torture she undergoes are horrific, and I have nothing but respect for her for the physical lengths to which she went to play this role, including shaving her hair off.  There's a hugely affecting subplot in which she communicates with a fellow prisoner via scratched-out notes pushed through tiny holes in the walls between their cells.  This fellow inmates sole "crime" is to be a lesbian.  It's sickening, but only because it's not implausible.  The whole cast are wonderful too.  Hugo gives what I can only think of as the best performance ever of an actor not showing his face (although the jury is out on exactly where Andy Serkis fits in here, exacted).  John Hurt is fantastic as Chancellor Sutler, and one can't help but think of the irony of him having played Winston Smith in the film of "1984".  Steven Rea is good too, as the cop on V's trail, as is Rupert Graves as his subordinate.

The film climaxes with something I found to be truly unexpected.  It was an act of iconoclasm so extreme I never thought I'd see it in play.   Yet, for this movie, it works perfectly.  It's the only logical conclusion to the story.  There's no way the main character could have gone through what she goes through without this type of emotional payoff.  It feels hideous, and wrong to see onscreen, but also deeply satisfying, in a guilty pleasure type way.  This is a film packed with impacting, iconic and memorable images.

Most importantly, this is a film which asks the viewer to think whilst, or just after, being entertained.  There are action sequences, sure; V proves quite handy in that department in some nifty fights.  But it's the fight within the mind which drives the movie.  Not only in Evey's fight against her mental and physical torture and perpetual fear, but also in the depicted society's intolerant totalitarian conservatism, ultra Christian religious stance, the implicit bias of that, a hideous but credible scenario.  On initial viewing I thought the film was good, entertaining, and intelligent.  But on repeated visits (it's one of those where if I turn the tv on but it's half way through, I'll still watch to the end!) my estimate has ramped up. Love this.  See it, and think.

Remember remember... The fifth of November.


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