Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond
Hugo Weaving as V
Stephen Rea as Finch
John Hurt as Sutler
Roger Allam as Prothero
Stephen Fry as Gordon Deitrich
Rupert Graves as Dominic
Clive Ashborn as Guy Fawkes
Sinéad Cusack as Dr. Delia Surridge
Nicolas de Pruyssenaere as Marshal
Selina Giles as Evey’s mother
Ben Miles as Dascomb
Tim Pigott-Smith as Creedy
Cosima Shaw as Patricia
John Standing as Bishop Lilliman
William Tapley as Radioman
Natasha Wightman as Valerie
Directed by James McTeigue
Easily the most faithful and literal adaptation of an Alan Moore graphic novel to date, “V For Vendetta” will throw you for a loop with its potent combination of action, emotion and wry political commentary.
In the near future, London has turned into a police nation ruled by a fascist dictator (John Hurt), but a masked vigilante character known only as V (Hugo Weaving) has decided to fight back against the government. After saving a young woman named Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) from corrupt government agents, he recruits her to help him in his fight against the powers that be.
As possibly one of the few film critics who read Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s “V For Vendetta” before it was a graphic novel, when it was serialized in black and white in Warrior Magazine, I realize there are only two ways to review this film, either by comparing what’s the same or dissecting what’s different from the original work. Because I don’t want to spoil the plot in hopes that people will be able to discover this amazing story for themselves much like I did, some plot points have been kept deliberately vague.
You certainly can’t blame Alan Moore for not wanting anything to do with the movie based on his early work with David Lloyd. After all, his stories have repeatedly been raped and pillaged by Hollywood in hopes of making them more mainstream, and let’s face it, producer Joel Silver is infamous for making cookie-cutter action movies. It’s a shame that Moore has taken this stance, because Silver’s pairing with the Wachowski Brothers on their “Matrix” trilogy has made this adaptation possible. Written by the Wachowskis and directed by their long-time assistant director James McTeigue, this may the first movie that Moore might be proud to have his name on.
Moore’s original story was a thumb at the nose of the Thatcher government and the potential it had for becoming a fascist state. Taken to the extreme, Moore’s England of the late 20th Century could be compared to Nazi Germany, where the corrupt government would imprison and kill homosexuals in the name of the country’s churchgoing leader. Those who have read the original series will be surprised by how much of Moore’s powerful story remains intact, giving this film a similar attitude as Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” only without the fantasy and humor.
Other than that, “V For Vendetta” may be the most literal Alan Moore adaptation ever made, but that’s not to say that it’s a note-for-note scene-by-scene recreation of Moore and Lloyd’s dystopian tale of the future. From the beginning, the changes are fairly obvious. Natalie Portman’s Evey Hammond isn’t turning tricks to survive when she’s saved by V from being gangraped by the city’s corrupt law enforcement. Her job as an assistant at the government-controlled television station allows them to reunite her with V later.
Most of the important story elements are retained–the former Gestapo news reporter and pedophile bishop, for instancebut unlike David Lloyd’s dark and grim future London, McTeigue’s Orwellian vision doesn’t look that much different from ours if you ignore the images of the country’s ranting “Hitler Lite” leader that are everywhere. The genius of the adaptation lies in the fact that the added bits, and there are quite a few, bring new layers to the story, but they’re in such perfect tune with Moore’s vision that you might remember them from the graphic novel despite them never being there.
It takes some time to get used to the absence of Moore’s running narrative and the unconventional storytelling techniques that made the original work so innovative for its time. (Remember, this story preceded things like “Watchmen” and Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” by years.) Once you get past that, it’s easy to enjoy how the Wachowskis have condensed this rich story into a tighter package, cleaning things up and taking out what might have been unnecessary or confusing about Moore’s original series, while borrowing bits from Tim Burton’s “Batman” or “The Phantom of the Opera” to help new viewers relate.
When Evey is captured and tortured, the film begins to follow Moore’s story verbatim, including a particularly moving subplot some may expect to be cut from the movie, and it’s sure to evoke emotion even more than the way it was handled originally. Evey’s interrogation won’t be nearly as effective to anyone who has seen “Sophie Scholl.”
Just like the graphic novel, the film’s heart comes in the form of the unconventional romance between V and Evey, which very closely follows their relationship in the books. Portman does adequately with her British accent, but the real genius casting comes in the form of Hugo Weaving as V, who is able to create an immensely 3-dimensional character solely with the use of his voice. Who knows if that masked person on screen is really Weaving, but his ability to mix lines written by Moore with those written by Shakespeare without missing a beat is incredibly telling of the strength of the material. Of course, Weaving also throws in a few “Mr. Smith” moments as well, when he faces government opposition, but this is a far subtler performance.
Of course, John Hurt couldn’t be better cast as the country’s ranting leader, but the rest of the British cast is equally impressive. Stephen Rea’s Chief Inspector Finch plays a much larger role in the movie than he did originally, as the film spends a lot more time with him trying to solve the mystery of V. The Wachowskis also find a clever way of getting around the problems Moore had in the second book, which changed tone and dragged a bit. In this case, Gordon is a talk show host, adroitly played by Stephen Fry, who offers some of the film’s welcome comic relief, while creating the perfect link to tie together the various elements.
In some ways, the layers of political intrigue are even more complex than they were originally, and surely, some will complain that the film is nothing but ultra-liberal anti-government propaganda. There’s really nothing dangerous about a little bit of anti-establishmentarian dogma once in a while, it all greatly appealed to the teen punk in me who fell in love with this story in the first place.
“V For Vendetta” is by no means perfect, and much like the book, the middle section tends to drag, although the last half hour delivers on the action and the amazing visuals that everyone is expecting, including a few things that we haven’t really seen in a movie before.
Regardless, this will put a lot of pressure on the poor sucker hired to try to turn Moore’s “Watchmen” into a movie.
The Bottom Line:
If you go into “V For Vendetta” expecting a superhero action film, you may be disappointed, but if you know the graphic novel, you’ll be impressed with the way McTeigue and the Wachowskis have brought Moore’s vision to life, embellishing and modernizing his ideas without filtering them or watering them down. It’s the type of cerebral politically-minded commentary on government that is sorely needed right now.