Saturday, March 18, 2006

V for Vendetta

Is it OK to laugh as you're watching the British Parliament building being blown to smithereens? It's been about a half hour or so since I did (on screen, of course), and I still can't decide.

In my mind, at least, that's what the Wachowski brothers, in cahoots with first-time director James McTeigue, must have been going for with "V for Vendetta." A beautifully constructed movie that, if you think about it too much, can be deeply disturbing, but still immensely entertaining.

"V" was originally a graphic novel by Alan Moore written during the days of Margaret Thatcher. Moore, as many Britons at the time, must have been a very angry, yet creative, young man. Instead of blowing up the Parliament building or anything quite that dramatic, he created a fantasy world and a fantastic hero to deliver vengeance for him.

As it was a fantasy, he took the worst impulses of Thatcher's regime and played them to the hilt, creating a fascist nightmare that holds the people in an iron fist.

It's always tempting to read too much into what is essentially a big ball of popcorn, albeit one peppered with powerful ideas. I'd advise against it as you go into "V." While our current leader definitely is more than a tad power-mad, he is not a fascist, and if you really thought the Wachowskis were trying to paint him as one, you must have, somewhere deep inside, thought that yourself already. Besides, as fascists go, John Hurt as the high chancellor Sutler is just scary as hell.

But enough on that; how's the movie? For one where you're asked to identify with a hero who is a terrorist, remarkably good. It flows along smoothly as we learn why the masked man played by "Matrix" alum Hugo Weaving is so angry at his government, and as he manipulates young Evy Hammond, a fierce Natalie Portman, in his plot.

Portman is solid, but it's Weaving that manages to sell us on this oddity, spouting often ludicrous lines like "ideas are bulletproof" with a Shakespearean ease. You get the impression he must have been smirking under that mask the whole time, but we never get to find out.

What keeps things running smoothly is that the Wachowskis and McTeigue held back on much of the theatrics that marred the second and third "Matrix" movies. After we're introduced to V and his reluctant partner, it develops into what's almost a police procedural in a parallel universe, with the always reliable Stephen Rea in pursuit of V and his growing army of anarchists.

In the end, "V" accomplished what a lot of the best pop art does - create an outlet for our darkest urges so we don't act on them ourselves. It's why I fell in love with punk music and, now, rap music, genres in arms that let you feel you're acting out while you're actually just being entertained. What more can you ask for?


edieraye said...

I thought V was remarkably faithful to the spirit of the original material - despite Alan Moore's little temper tantrum. Now if the Watchmen movie could only get off the ground...

Marty said...

Nice review! I'd agree.
I haven't read the novel, but this was a well-made film.