Review: V for Vendetta (2005)

Directed by: James McTeigue | 132 minutes | action, drama, thriller, science fiction | Actors: James Purefoy, Natalie Portman, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Hugo Weaving, Roger Allam, Clive Ashborn, Sinéad Cusack, Nicolas de Pruyssenaere, Christopher Fosh, Stephen Fry, Selina Giles

The “V” in “V for Vendetta” applies to many other expressions as well. You could also call this comic adaptation of Alan Moore’s comic strip of the same name “V for Confusing” or “V for Demanding”. Director McTeigh’s film has not become a bite-sized Hollywood chunk. On the contrary. “V for Vendetta” knows how to alternately insult, manipulate and amuse. Interesting, but exhausting.

In “V for Vendetta” you get to see an extremely gloomy version of a futuristic London. The city is in the hands of a dictator (Hurt) who manipulates the people by throwing dubious media reports and propaganda into the air. The inhabitants of the metropolis live insignificant lives and have to keep to a curfew. Likewise Evey Hammond (Portman). Against her better judgment, the young woman does go out on the street in the evening, which of course ends badly. Evey is trapped by a group of rapists. Before the woman falls victim to her attackers, the mysterious V (Weaving) appears. A man in a Guy Fawkes mask. V is an idealist who wants to express his opinion of his government through explosives, in short, he is a terrorist. Or a freedom fighter? As so often the truth turns out to be in the middle. Evey joins her savior and supports him in his lonely struggle.

Although the story seems simple, “V for Vendetta” consists of ingenious plot lines and deeper layers. The basis of the plot comes from the comic books of the British Moore. In comick circles the author is considered a true genius. Moore’s work is complex, grand and challenging. The Brit always has something to tell in his stories and “V for Vendetta” is no exception. Both in the book and in the film, you are faced with a large portion of social criticism, you are confronted with the prevailing homophobia, you see religious madness, you see the abuse of power by the media and you see the fine line between terrorism and the struggle for freedom. There are also references to Nazi Germany and the London bombings. In short, “V for Vendetta” is an ambitious story. Perhaps a little too ambitious … McTeigh has tried to translate the comic onto the silver screen as well as possible. A brave attempt that unfortunately does not work out well. The director has picked up Moore’s snarls at society well and incorporated them into the film, but that comes at the expense of the plot. “V for Vendetta” is chock-full of references that disrupt the course of the story. For example, characters do not come out well and the tension often collapses. The star cast full of British actors pays a lot, but even big names like Hurt, Fry and Rae can’t save their one-dimensional roles. There is simply too little for them to do. The pivotal part of the story revolves around the relationship between Evey and V, but the countless references also make it difficult for them. In particular, the blossoming romance between V and Evey comes out of the blue. The fact that the backgrounds of the duo also remain somewhat vague, does not do the matter any good. It’s all thanks to Weaving and Portman’s strong playing that you’re going to care about them anyway. Weaving in particular is fantastic, although you hardly get to see his face, he still manages to portray a reasonably adaptable character. Even Moore’s theatrical, static one liners sound surprisingly smooth from the mouth of the masked actor. Portman deserves a lot of praise for her British accent.

The biggest flaw in the film is that it never makes a choice what genre it wants to be. For an action film, “V for Vendetta” is too tame, too chaotic as a drama and too conventional as a sci-fi. In addition, some misplaced humorous scenes have been pasted between the already messy script. As a result, McTeigh’s film has become a mixed bag. Although some scenes from “V for Vendetta” are already instant classics, especially the beginning in which V detonates some explosives while conducting is already legendary, there is nevertheless a slight disappointment. Although McTeigh gained experience with the “Matrix” films before his directorial debut, he lacks an identity of his own. “V for Vendetta” looks nice, but no more than that. The film consists of close ups and dramatically zoomed out images and that’s it. You should not see the film for original camera angles or nice visual finds. In terms of design it is way too good. Only at the end McTeigh dares to experiment a bit more with camera angles and special effects.

If an action sci-fi falls short in terms of story and action, what are you left with? In the case of “V for Vendetta” more than you denkt. McTeigh may have put together a chaotic film, but it is still an interesting (perhaps even relevant) film. “V for Vendetta” remains fascinating because of the interesting questions it raises. Are we really heading for self-destruction? Are we really as tolerant as we like to think and can our government be trusted? These are essential questions, to which Moore and McTeigh themselves cannot answer. The movie makes you think and that’s a relief for a popcorn movie like this one. Plus, the sympathetic “V for Vendetta” has the heart in the right place. “V for Vendetta” may have been edited somewhat confused, but the respect for the source material is no less. McTeigh has kept the essence of the comic intact and that is worth a lot. Especially when you consider that little of Moore’s intelligent work is left when it passes through the Hollywood machine (think “From Hell” and “LGX”). If you are a real comic fan, you can easily add half a star to the score.

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