V for Vendetta Review
By Joe Lozito
Wane of Terror
The writer Alan Moore was apparently so disillusioned with Hollywood that the film adaptation of his groundbreaking, joyfully bleak graphic novel "V for Vendetta" is credited only as being "based on the graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd" (Mr. Moore's longtime partner). After watching his equally brilliant "The League of Extraordinary Gentleman"
butchered to within an inch of its life in an anemic 2003 film, it's no wonder Mr. Moore would be a bit wary. But he needn't have removed his name from director James McTeigue's refreshingly faithful but maddeningly uneven adaptation. While it contains none of the brilliance or immediacy of the source material, for any fan of Mr. Moore's original, there are moments of pure bliss.
The film, like the novel, takes place in a totalitarian London ruled with larger-than-life, scenery-chewing bluster by Chancellor (it's always Chancellor) Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Over the course of a year, a masked vigilante codenamed "V" holds the city and its government in the grip of terror after bombing the Old Bailey building. The filmmakers are obviously very proud of themselves for, in a post-9/11 world, making a film in which the main character is a terrorist. But while the screenplay by the Wachowski brothers does not back down from the controversial nature of the story, they also create a world of such a heightened reality that the film fails to pack the punch that it should.
Even with the sledgehammer-like portrayal of the evil government, for the film to make a real impact we need at least one character to identify with. In Mr. Moore's story, this character is Evey Hammond, played in the film by Natalie Portman. The story is propelled by Evey's transformation from frightened victim to (without giving too much away) something else. With an iffy English accent and waif-ish frame, Ms. Portman is too slight a presence to create a lasting impression (if you want a British Natalie Portman don't you cast Keira Knightley?). She has moments in which she projects some genuine fear, but she doesn't possess the gravity needed to sell the story.
On the other hand, Hugo Weaving (Mr. Smith from the Wachowski's "Matrix" trilogy) is fantastic as "V". Playing the entire role behind a Guy Fawkes mask, Mr. Weaving does more with subtle head movements than Ms. Portman manages with her whole body. Stephen Rea is also wonderful as the beleaguered Detective Finch. The cat-and-mouse game between Finch and V gives the film its backbone and much-needed grounding.
"V" is obviously a labor of love for the Wachowskis and their screenplay is reverent almost to a fault. There are moments of exposition which, while easily skimmed in the graphic novel, must be endured in their entirety on celluloid. If they were going to update the novel (written in the late 80s) to a vague 21st century future, they would have done well to re-imagine it even further. But regardless, Mr. Moore's original concept is still vital enough to be worth seeing, if not reading.
Though I understand Mr. Moore's misgivings about Hollywood adaptations, there's something ironic about the man who created this iconic vigilante giving control over to the Hollywood empire. As Robert Rodriguez showed by adapting Frank Miller's equally revered "Sin City"
into a wonderful 2005 film, it is possible for the little guy to come out ahead. Every time Mr. Weaving is on screen the spirit of Mr. Moore's character comes alive. Those moments, at least, are worth fighting for.