Friday, March 17, 2006

V for Vendetta

by Brian
NOTE: I'm not really all that good at knowing what constitutes a spoiler, and I'm not prone to worry about it all that much. You might see the movie before reading this review if such things concern you.

So, first things first. I don't know if it's an omen or not regarding the movie's box office, but at the 10pm screening last night, there were maybe 15 people or so in attendance. I was shocked, really, at the sparse corwd, because I think the marketing campaign has been pretty strong. Perhaps it's simply a case of me projecting my own anticipation onto others.

With that out of the way, I'm afraid that I'm fairly disappointed with the film on the whole. There are ideas here that lead me to think that this could have been a great film, and there are moments here and there that almost deliver on that promise. But ultimately, it falls short of the mark.

The biggest problem is the character of V. I'm sure that sounds hard to believe, since his character is what appealed to me in the first place. But as played by Hugo Weaving, he's a bit of a clown. He starts on the completely wrong foot, delivering a silly alliterative monologue (all the words start with V, ha ha!) in his very first scene, and flipping eggs for Natalie Portman in the next. It's a terribly misguided introduction to the character. While things get better later in the movie, the first impression stuck with me, making it hard to really take this character seriously.

V's motivations were also problematic for me. The idea of a citizen uprising against their government is a provocative one in the times we're in, but I felt that the movie was frequently distracted from this theme. There are a lot of murky flashback scenes that kinda, sorta explain V's origins, which I found unnecessary. They make V's vendetta seem more personal and less social-minded, and at times it seems that it's not fascism and oppression that bothers V so much as the individual fascists and oppressors. It begs the question, would he have a problem had he not been so terribly mistreated? I think it's a bit of a philosophical copout to ask that question and not deal with it, but it's not hard to assume that the guys who thought "knife time" would be really cool didn't even realize they were asking it. There's a big difference between "freedom fighter" and "avenging angel"; the movie is never able to reconcile those roles for V, and doesn't really even try.

It also doesn't help matters that the government "party members" are so often cartoonish. John Hurt's High Chancellor is all sneering and ranting, even in the flashback scenes when he's still running for office. I just didn't find it convincing that he could have won the trust of the people, especially in the hard times during which he came to power. Roger Allam's broadcaster and John Standing's pedophile priest are also way over the top. Again, it's kind of a copout to give people like this such transparently evil traits, as if a top role in an oppressive fascist government is no big deal by itself.

All that said, there are some great moments. Natalie Portman's head-shaving torture scenes are completely frightening without being overly graphic and misogynist, and the letter she finds during these scenes comes as close as this movie ever does to making the fundamental case against fascism. V's scene with Sinead Cusack, who plays a doctor from the old days, is quite powerful, and shows that the "avenging angel" storyline could have worked fine on its own. And Stephen Rea's chief inspector has a compelling storyline all by himself, as a man who's just starting to wake up to the evil around him.

As a final note, I take it that it's widely assumed that the Wachowski Brothers were the ones that really made this movie, despite James McTeigue's name in the credits as director. I would doubt that very much. The action scenes here are very choppy, and at times downright amateurish. There's none of the slick elegance found in the Matrix movies.


Click "Link" to read the actual review....

8 Comments:

Blogger Colin said...

I think that the movie itself has been promoted very well, but I don't think that the Thursday night at 10:00 screenings were promoted nearly as well. What you saw might be sign of a poor opening weekend, but I also wouldn't be surprised if people just weren't aware of the Thursday screenings.

3/17/2006 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

This is where you and I disagree (again), Brian. Just came back, and initial thoughts are this.

Fucking fantastic. Film is close to Batman Begins/Fight Club good. I've read the comic more than enough times to know the plot by heart, and I was still taken in by the plot.

Reading your criticism, Brian, I understand and see where you're coming from, but don't agree. V worked fine for me, action scenes were well done and no trouble follwing, and I found what you thought of as a problematic role for V as an avenging angel contra his role as freedom fighter, as an element of an interesting discussion within the film, posed to the audience. What makes a freedom fighter, after all?

The characterisation by guys like John Hurt were interesting, credible as how a British Hitler would look. And while Roger Allan's broadcaster is represented as sneeringly evil, and you wondered how anyone could be foiled in by him, all I have is two words: Bill O'Reilly.

I'm seeing this one again. Soon.

3/17/2006 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

I'll be seeing this film on Tuesday. Can't wait to see it to settle this disagreement. I loved Batman Begins, hated Fight Club!

3/17/2006 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Well, I guess that what you see as "an element of an interesting discussion" I saw as a jumble of ideas. It wasn't set up as a question for the audience, it was set up as a bad-ass superhero doing his thing.

I did think it was going to go down the ambiguous route when Evey questioned him on this very subject, but given Evey's character arc I think it's safe to say that the filmmakers came down squarely on the side of bad-ass.

And as for Bill O'Reilly ... please. He's a cable talk show host with only a relative handful of viewers per night. Simon Cowell is more the "Voice of America" than O'Reilly.

3/17/2006 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

I've read the comic a bunch of times, too, and will see it this weekend. If they are faithful to the comic, it should be great. I've always said that V is 2nd only to Watchmen for greatest comic ever. My college suitemate disagreed, however:

http://polyn.com/strips/strip2.html

3/17/2006 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Colin, your college suitemate (suite? in a college?) is stupid. The Earth is round and Watchmen is the best comic of all time. These are facts.

it was set up as a bad-ass superhero doing his thing.

Well, that too.

And as for Bill O'Reilly ... please. He's a cable talk show host with only a relative handful of viewers per night. Simon Cowell is more the "Voice of America" than O'Reilly.

I was not implying that O'Reilly was the "Voice of America."

From what I've read he has close to 3 million viewers. That's on par with Leno and Letterman, or close to, right?

This is a guy who thrives on ignorance, bigotry and who is constantly over the top. Yet he has one of the biggest daily shows in the country. Question is would he have had as great an audience before 9-11?

Let's say that America suffered under a true tragedy, such as a dirty bomb in central LA, killing tens of thousands, or even a hundred thousand, as in Vendetta. What do you think O'Reillys response would be? And do you think his rates would go up?

I don't think the possibility of a guy like the one Roger Allan played is too much of a stretch.

John Hurt's High Chancellor is all sneering and ranting, even in the flashback scenes when he's still running for office.

And the documents we see of Hitler show him how? I'm also pretty sure we can assume that a fascistic state where comfort is prized has some well-placed propaganda of 'the Leader' playing with dogs and little children, as well.

3/18/2006 01:30:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

Saw this last night, and I'm with Nick--thought it was fantastic. I love the style, and found it very entertaining. I thought V was a very interesting character--not a bad-ass superhero, but a very flawed man, who does have mixed motives, and Evey sees them. I also wasn't troubled by the bad guys being over the top. Fascist dictatorships aren't often subtle. A few minor problems--didn't the police think to check who ordered 700,000 Guy Fawkes masks? Not to mention all that fertilizer.

3/22/2006 07:18:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

Finally saw it, finally read this post and comments. I'm more in agreement with Nick. While I didn't think it was great, I thought it was far above average--another example of "every film should be this good." A lot of reviews around have mentioned the troubling aspects of V being a terrorist and we get to see Parliament blown up--I actually wasn't as troubled by that within the context of the film as I was in the past by some of the imagery of wanton violence committed by the hero terrorists of The Matrix Reloaded as they cut a fine swath of destruction in a world they knew was not real, as perhaps some religious zealots might feel.

As for tracking down the source of ordering all those masks and tons of fertilizer, I imagined that V must have been adept at tapping into various computer systems and that the bills all ended up at the Ministry of Defense or something like that.

After seeing Inside Man I was struck by the similarity of V's ruse of putting his mask on his hostages. And if two films out at the same time had some hip-hop Indian music playing over the end credits, would you believe that the one also playing Malcolm X over the music was not the one directed by Spike Lee?

4/06/2006 11:43:00 PM  

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