Thursday, March 23, 2006
"I'm not questioning your powers of observation, I'm merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is."
V For Vendetta is a slice of popcorn fun that, like the Matrix before it, is dressed up in what at first appears to be intelligent commentary but is actually as shallow as anything else on the big screen.
Look, there's a lot to say for the idea of this lone freedom fighter (A continuously masked Hugo Weaving) fighting a totalitarian Government. And yes, seeing Evie Hammond (the divine Natalie Portman) coming to realise that the world she lives in may in need of a swift kick in the arse is pretty intrigiuing. But its all about as subtle as a brick. V, who is so fond of quoting Shakespeare, might say that this tale was "Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Because for all the braying from the right in America about what a brutal attack this is on them, this is really little more than a tickle with a feather duster under the armpits. Everything in this movie has been said before. In fact, as a companion piece to Good Night and Good Luck, there's more genuine anger in Good Night because it really wants to show the effect a complacent nation has on every day rights. V For Vendetta is a little more concerned with looking very cool. It has a message - that we should always question our government and never believe the truth of what is told to us through the mass media - but that message is comparatively simple and is always laid to the side for a moment so that some other piece of cool cinema can take place. There is little genuine call for change in this film. And yet it seems to want to cry freedom.
There's a lot to like in V, of course. Hugo Weaving portrays so much emotion for a man in a smiling Guy Fawkes mask. And in the first half of the movie - when the script writers endear to give V his own peculiar voice and speech patterns - he sounds so cool, too. Smart, witty and intelligent, quoting Shakespeare as he slices up the tools of Government oppression. And then somewhere along the line they get bored and he starts to sound more and more like Joe Blow, his lines becoming more vacuous and in line with just about any other vigilante superhero. Its a credit to Weaving that he still brings some dignity to the lines, of course, but nothing matches his initial appearance as he saves Evie from a horrific fate at the hands of the Government employed "Finger Men".
All in all its the cast who bring dignity to this film and raise it above the mess it could easily have been. Stephen Fry who appears as a TV comedian who decides to take on the Government (think if Murrow had done a Benny Hill style sketch lampooning McCarthy) is all subtle sophistication and gentle sadness despite the aforementioned Benny Hill sketch which is part of his character's TV persona. Indeed, where the script conspires to make his character suddenly dumb as a brick (convinced that the Government will not black bag him for his public lampooning of the Chancellor) Fry brings a nuance to his words that implies he knows precisely what will happen but must go on as it it won't because that's what he must believe if he is to ever set the world to rights.
Natalie Portman does a very decent job, finally shrugging off the vacant Star Wars persona she had begun to develop. She's probably the weakest link in the cast but again this may be down to the writing: her character goes through the motions of change but there's very little believability to the way this change occurs and the switcheroo at the midpoint of the movie which is supposed to convince her to finally join V's cause is... lazy, predictable and getting to the point where you have to ask yourself why you just sat through the last twenty minutes of film if it didn't actually mean anything.
The main problems with V lie in the script. Halfway through I found myself remembering Jack Nicholson's Joker standing with his jaw dropped as Michael Keaton's Batman flew out of the trap the Joker had laid, carrying Vikki Vale on his arm. I wanted to mumble in disbelief, "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" Because the way V and everyone talks its like V is the first terrorist to appear since the new Government took control. And if we believe the origin story, V had no contacts, noplace to stay, nothing to his name. And yet suddenly he has a cool castle, access to explosives, the ability to spend ten years digging out the old underground tunnels (on his own????) and no apparent friends except for Evie. Normally I'm not a fan of overexplanations but here it really felt like on one hand they were saying V was alone and on the other he had so much influence that there had to be some grand conspiracy working on his behalf.
V for Vendetta isn't as bad as it could be. Yet its not as wonderful as it wants to be. It passes the time, its message is flawed but okay and there's a horrible, horrible twist midway through that should be dramatic but falls incredibly flat. However there's a good deal of cool stuff to enjoy (Loving that final explosion and V's early appearances are very cool indeed) and the cast seem to be having a ball. I just wish the Wachowski Brothers would quit thinking they were modern day philosophers. Because, trust me fellas, you'd flunk out.