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The long awaited follow-on to the Matrix Trilogy by the Wachowski brothers is here. While it is not the mind-blowing movie that the first Matrix film was to geeks everywhere, V for Vendetta is still a subversive piece of filmmaking. V for Vendetta is based on the graphic novel series by Alan Moore, who also penned From Hell, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Moore has dissociated himself completely from the movie. The film version has been extensively rewritten by the Wachowski brothers, and is directed by their second unit director on the Matrix movies, James McTeigue. It tells the story of young woman (Natalie Portman) who lives in an England which has become an oppressive dictatorship under the control of its evil Chancellor (John Hurt) and his nasty boys including his security chief (Tim Pigott-Smith) and his long-suffering police Chief-Inspector (Stephen Rea). Portman is out after curfew one night and is accosted by by some of Pigott-Smith's thugs. She is saved by a masked figure (Hugo Weaving) who is very good with knives. He is V and for mysterious reasons that are slowly explained in the film, he has dedicated himself to the overthrow of Hurt, Pigott-Smith et al. And V has a flair for the dramatic. He begins by blowing up The Old Bailey while the 1812 Overture plays through speakers in the whole city. He wears a Guy Fawkes mask and begins his campaign against the government on November the 5th, which, if you didn't grow up in the British Empire, is Guy Fawkes Day. Anyway, V says that one year from now, i.e. next November 5th, he will blow up the Houses of Parliament and bring down the government. Then begins a cat and mouse game where Rea and Pigott-Smith try to catch V before he kills everyone in the government. Caught in the middle is Portman whose parents were kidnapped and murdered by Pigott-Smith's boys when she was a young girl. She has to choose whether to help the crazy guy in the mask or the crazy guys in the government.
The Matrix was like nothing we had ever seen before, but V for Vendetta is very retro and very derivative. It is a melding of The Count of Monte Cristo, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and 1984. In fact, in case we don't get it, V spends a lot of time watching the 1934 version of The Count of Monte Cristo which stars Robert Donat. And in a nice piece of casting, John Hurt, who played Winston Smith in 1984, plays the equivalent of Big Brother in V for Vendetta. Hurt is one of the best but he doesn't get to do anything except chew the scenery here. Pigott-Smith is nicely evil as Hurt's Heinrich Himmler. You may remember his memorable performance in The Jewel in the Crown. Portman, sporting a slightly weird English accent, gives it her all, including having her head actually shaved on camera. The most difficult role is that of V, who never takes his mask off for the whole film. Who other than Hugo Weaving, Agent Smith in The Matrix, Elrond in The Lord of the Rings, Tick in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Rex the Male Sheepdog in Babe, could play this role. But, by far the best thing in V for Vendetta is Stephen Rea. I love this guy. He burst onto the scene in The Crying Game but I recommend renting his Citizen X, the best TV movie ever made. Rea is always amazing and he is the only person in V for Vendetta to make his character fully 3-dimensional. Stephen Fry also has a good role as Portman's nice but doomed boss. They even have an actual BBC news reader, Adrian Finnegan, reading the news on the state-run anti-BBC.
James McTeigue, a career second-unit director, got his big chance to direct a movie although I hear that the Wachowski brothers were on the set at all times. V for Vendetta has none of the visual flair of The Matrix although many knives glide slowly through the air. And the characters are a bit like they came out of a comic book. Hmmm, they did come out of a comic book! And I have to say that the plot is not exactly believable, particularly the dramatic ending. But V for Vendetta does suck you in. And you really want to see those Parliament buildings blow up.
It's a testament to the sad state of affairs in this country that the world of V for Vendetta reminds the viewer not only of 1984, and Nazi Germany, but also of the United States of America in 2006. The makers of this film have got some big balls to make a movie, after last summer's bombings, where terrorists blow up the Houses of Parliament in London and to present this as a good thing! By the end of V for Vendetta, you are going to want to put on a Guy Fawkes mask yourself and man the barricades! As V says, "People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people." The government definitely doesn't want you to see this movie. And that's a good enough reason to go see it....