BY NEIL FAUERSO
V (Hugo Weaving, in the shadows) protects Evey (Natalie Portman) in V for Vendetta (©2006 Warner Bros. Pictures).
Amidst the whispers of the Wachowski brothers, their legendary secrecy and Larry’s purported plunge into a gender-bending lifestyle, their first film since The Matrix trilogy (V for Vendetta was directed by protégé James McTeigue, but written and produced by the Wachowskis) comes with a bit more spice than the usual spring megaplex fare. V was slated for a November 5th, 2005, release date (Guy Fawkes and the 5th are crucial dates in the film), but was pushed back after the London subway bombings of July. Perhaps this delay was overly cautious and ultimately unnecessary, but regardless of its actual reception—V for Vendetta is the most over-the-top and feral anti-right-wing film since Bush was elected.
V for Vendetta was based on the 1989 British graphic novel by Alan Moore (who, true to his prickly comic-book self, has removed his name from this film) that took aim at Margaret Thatcher’s conservative rule in Britain. The film still takes place in England, but broadens its symbolism. The shadowy V.P. and torturer extraordinaire looks remarkably like Dick Cheney, and the blustering, sputtering “voice of London” is a dead-on match for Bill O’Reilly. Other facets of this imagined world are a little more extreme—homosexuals and Muslims have been run out, tortured, and murdered en masse. Art and culture are for the most part banned, and countrywide curfews are constantly in effect. Enter V—a dandy and spry swashbuckler armed with knives and disguised by a baroque, milk-white Guy Fawkes mask. V starts November 5th saving Evey (Natalie Portman) from fascist thugs and then elegantly blows up the justice building, hijacks the national news, and proclaims that he will blow up Parliament on the next November 5th.
V for Vendetta falls a bit into the Rage Against the Machine camp, i.e., a leftist polemic produced and financed by a multinational corporation. Still, since the dawn of the modern Hollywood action flick and Rambo asking, “Do we get to win this time?” action/adventure films have almost exclusively been vessels of right-wing, neo-conservative propaganda. If you don’t believe me, just watch True Lies, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard again and note the unconditional advocacy of no b.s. vigilante-style justice usually rounded at Arabs or effete Euro-trash.
V for Vendetta is just as frenzied and hysterical as the aforementioned films, but there’s a quickness and buzz to it. Both stately and stylish—filled with peppery dialogue and whirling fight scenes, V for Vendetta is the most purely enjoyable and rich Hollywood blockbuster since Batman Begins.
The film is ultimately buoyed and given gravitas by its two leads. Hugo Weaving, who was the evil yes-man Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy, is remarkably magnetic cloaked and behind a white mask. Feminine and eloquent, but with the coiled energy of true outrage and violence, Weaving’s V makes a palpable revolutionary and superhero. Natalie Portman, usually near the top of my overrated list, pulls off quite a feat by assuming an entirely believable and unpretentious British accent (are you paying attention, Gwyneth Paltrow?). Portman is intelligent, vulnerable, sexy, and tough—it’s easily the most significant and impressive role of her career.
Thus far, V for Vendetta has failed to elicit the controversy its creators were probably looking for. No matter. If nothing else, the film is significant for its very existence and for its modest success. For a film as left as this, for it to be quietly consumed and accepted is startling.