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04/14/2006 - V FOR VENDETTA

V FOR VENDETTA by Tom McCurrie

So far, 2006 has been a pretty lame one for cinema (that is if you can call celluloid atrocities like GRANDMA'S BOY and BLOODRAYNE cinema). Nevertheless, though it may have taken till March, there is finally a film out there that is worth setting down some coin to see: V FOR VENDETTA.

Directed by James McTeigue and written by THE MATRIX's Wachowski Brothers (and based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore), V FOR VENDETTA takes place in a near-future England where a neo-fascist government lords it over everybody. A young woman (Natalie Portman) whose parents where murdered by that government teams up with a mysterious masked man named V to rally the people against the powers-that-be -- and try to avoid getting killed by the authorities in the process.

Instead of the mindless, instantly forgettable drivel moviegoers have had to put up with lately (need I mention GRANDMA'S BOY and BLOODRAYNE again?), V FOR VENDETTA stands out by having something both important and timely to say. The movie sharply criticizes the politics of fear that colors debate nowadays, accusing governments of stoking that fear to seize power, and, in the film's most provocative argument, accusing the public of succumbing to that fear too readily, foolishly surrendering their freedoms, and their moral responsibility, in their search for a protector who is often anything but. These are daring issues most news shows refuse to address, never mind major studio entertainments.

This doesn't mean V FOR VENDETTA is some dry, heavy-handed lecture about the rights and responsibilities of man, something so tedious it would turn off an audience no matter how provocative the message. The movie is actually an entertaining ride first and foremost, filled with action, suspense and visual spectacle, allowing its message to percolate more subtly, and more effectively, into our consciousness. One of the best moments in the film has V taking on nearly one-dozen heavily armed bad guys with nothing more than his signature knives. This scene has little to do with lofty themes, and everything to do with pure, visceral excitement.

It also helps that we have two sympathetic underdogs -- Natalie Portman is compelling as a woman who is stripped of everything, both physically and mentally, becoming all the stronger for it, while Hugo Weaving is even better as V, the driven, hard-as-nails freedom fighter whose lonely, tender side is drawn out by Portman's humanity. (Weaving's affecting turn is all the more amazing since his face is covered by a mask for the entire film.) Their PHANTOM OF THE OPERA-like relationship provides the story with an appealing emotional center.

Now V FOR VENDETTA does have its credibility problems (what major Hollywood release doesn't these days?). Most of them revolve around V's superhuman fighting skills (which are never really explained) and his ability to roam London and break into (and out of) secure locations at will, even with an army of police on his heels. We're also supposed to believe that V could rebuild an entire subway line by himself, and that the success of his master plan depends on the baddies not shooting him in the head or legs, but instead conveniently focusing all their fire on his chest.

Still, if you like action-thrillers with substance and then some, V FOR VENDETTA finally makes it worth going to the multiplex again. The picture is R-rated for some fairly graphic violence, however, so it's probably wise to keep the little tykes at home.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is currently working on his first novel.


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