Despite perhaps being one of the more popcorn entries to have bestowed this blog’s young lifetime, James McTeigue’s debut foray into the world of film directorship has managed to achieve in only a handful of years what countless filmmakers have striven for during their entire careers. Set in a post-apocalyptic, totalitarian England (with no passing mention of Scotland or Wales anywhere to be heard) V for Vendetta follows the story of one Evey Hammond, a citizen of the fascist Norsefire party’s government who lives and works as a low-level employee at a propaganda television company in London. During one night when she attempts to break curfew in order to meet her television boss at his home Evey is accosted by government secret police or ‘Fingermen’ as they are called. Moments from being beaten severely she is saved by a masked vigilante wearing the guise of a Guy Fawkes mask who takes her under his wing or perhaps I should say cloak. What later blossoms from this chance encounter is a tale of revenge, redemption and eventual revolution as Evey’s saviour, simply known as ‘V’ pursues a vendetta against Norsefire and the select key individuals responsible for his past suffering, in order to liberate the country Evey lives in.
To call the film a Hollywood blockbuster would be a rash labelling for a work based (no matter how loosely) upon the writings of literary genius Alan Moore . But to stamp an independent cinema characterization on it would be just as inaccurate. Make no mistake, V for Vendetta is a Hollywood action flick despite its medium-sized budget, produced by exactly the same mechanisms as other action/dramas from the American film industry. The difference however, or at least the one I believe in, is how it stands out from the usual doldrums of American-adapted fictional British works. Whether it was the Wachowski’s screenplay, or their production contribution to the film along with Joel Silver, or perhaps McTiegue’s vivid eye for detail I’m not certain. What impression it leaves with me as a viewer is an entirely unique 2-hour adventure, a standalone story and overall product if you will. One that at times relishes in being as difficult as V is for the government and in other places seems oddly abstract when put in comparison to other action/dramas of its day. The true identity of the film for me seems as hidden as the wearer of the iconic Guy Fawkes mask, neither superhero flick nor metaphorical docu-drama, instead a bizarre new creation, much like V himself.
However ambiguous its status, Vendetta offers many a moment to be enjoyed. The inspired casting of John Hurt’s ‘Big Brother-like’ high-chancellor Suttler, acts secondarily as an in-joke of itself with Hurt having played Stan Winston exceptionally well in the mishandled film adaptation of George Orwell’s “1984”. The mysteriously fluid performance from Hugo Weaving, playing the tormented and scarred V is one he pulls off convincingly despite the limitations of having to wear a mask throughout the entirety of the narrative. Stephen Rea makes a nice appearance as the determined to seek out the truth no matter what detective Eric Finch, as does supposed national British treasure Stephen Fry. Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Evey, a character superbly different from Moore’s original text, can be grating at times, depending greatly on how you view the accent she attempts to articulate throughout. But despite specific vocal issues one might have, her performance as the fragile yet self-empowering presence that is compared to V’s grandiose confidence becomes an engaging dynamic. Certain favourite sequences of mine are watching these two practically opposite characters interact with each other in order to simply pass the time or attempt to have a conversation after an uncomfortable silence. The scene stealer of the movie however must be awarded to John Hurt during the numerous government briefings held in a darkened room with Hurt’s face projected onto a gigantic screen, screaming out orders to his terrified underlings.
Upon release Vendetta was met with mixed critical reception and only moderate box-office success, despite the limitations of its budget. Several critics argued that the films main theme of terrorism felt misplaced in a now post 9/11 world. However the achievement McTiegue a
nd his fellow filmmakers have earned as hinted to earlier lies in how relevantly iconic Vendetta has become. Despite its over-the-top fascistic government and the ridiculously zealous corruption of its leaders, the central theme of V’s conquest has managed to take real hold in our society today. The hacker group Anonymous, the rise of the anti-Scientology movement, the presence of the Guy Fawkes mask in global protests from across the world is something any director or writer should be proud of. To produce a work of art that real life begins to imitate is a rare sight, and few works of cinema have managed to engage with the youth of society in such a way. Even those who dislike, haven’t seen, or don’t even care about the film, cannot deny that the iconography of its production has managed to leave the world of the silver screen and become symbolic in the message it tries to put across. A message that seems to have resonated in numbers greater than even V could have predicted himself, who knew!