Wednesday, August 16, 2006

V for Vendetta


Dir: James McTeigue (first film)

Paul loved V for Vendetta, emerging with a revolutionary fervor that I have yet to see translated into any newsworthy subversive acts (but I will remain patient). I did not like it near that much, placing it within the pantheon of technically competent but intellectually shallow action movies of recent years. Think The Matrix Revolutions here.

Certainly the film is trying to make the right points. I don't know if the presentist touches were in the source material, such as references to the Koran and a focus on sexual preference. But even if they were, if you get your story from a comic book, am I wrong to say that your argument is comical? Despite its attempts to speak to today, the regime in Britain is way more oppressive than Stalinist Soviet Union ever was. This is Orwell with the volume turned up. By making the dictatorship so odious (roving gangs of raping policemen, complete oppression of the entire panoply of private behavior) the defense of violence against the state becomes a no-brainer. Of course blowing up the justice building is OK! And V isn't even targeting civilians, but political targets such as the statist media. We find ourselves supporting the terrorist because he isn't a terrorist, he is a freedom fighter by any objective definition.

I suppose there is some future world where a freedom loving people surrender completley to a central government in the face of foreign threats and domestic epidemics. But the calculus of appropriate responses to such a regime would be entirely different at that point from the present day. I think the filmmakers were attempting to challenge our unreflexive rejection of any terrorism, but they constructed the narrative so sympathetically as to be unreflexive the other way.

For a much more interesting take on this subject matter, I would direct you to the essential Paradise Now (see also here) or even the acceptable Munich (see also here).

As for the non-political elements of the film, V for Vendetta is behind the 8-Ball already by casting the unfortunate starlet Natalie Portman, the least talented big time actress since Daryl Hannah. There were no Brits who could pull this off, or even any foreigners with passable British accents? If we have to cast a pretty young woman with a bad accent, could it at least have been one with some basic acting skills? She lucked into a big role at 18 in The Phantom Menace, and now we are stuck with her.

The supporting cast is generally very good, including John Hurt and the always welcome comedic genius Stephen Fry. Stephen Rea essentially reprises his role from Citizen X (literally, its the same damn role) but he is good in it both times. The art direction, set design, costuming etc. are all excellent, invoking an engaging mood and an attention to detail that will reward multiple viewings.

The movie is almost worth watching for one scene, the back story of V's turn to struggle through the persecution of a lesbian couple. That was a powerful and moving indict of intolerance. And why could not Natasha Wightman have done the Portman role? The former uses two minutes to outshine the entire performance of the latter.

I won't recommend the film for its message; it is just too facile to be interesting. As an action movie, there are some nice touches, some decent performances, and I can't say I had a bad time watching it. But I was hoping for more.