Genre: Action and Political Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 12 min.
Release Date: March 17th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R
Director: James McTeigue Actors: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Roger Allam, Ben Miles, Sinead Cusack, Natasha Wightman, Eddie Marsan
uring a yellow-coded curfew in a futuristic, dystopian, authoritarian Britain, corrupt law enforcement officers (dubbed “fingermen”) remorselessly exploit an opportunity to rape a civilian caught out on the streets after dark. But before she can become a victim, target Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) is rescued by the heroic madman V (Hugo Weaving), a caped crusader wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and black garb, and armed with a collection of knives. After whisking her away from the ominous alleyway, V convinces Evey to accompany him up to a rooftop to show her his carefully orchestrated bombing of the Old Bailey.
The following morning, the government has spun the unexpected terrorist activity into a routine, planned demolition, while Evey is wanted by the police. It’s not long before she’s hunted down at her job at the British Television Network, where V has coincidentally orchestrated another media stunt, in which he hijacks the station’s feed to air a countrywide message of lost freedoms, heightened censorship, constant surveillance, and unquestioned obedience that has plagued London for too long. During the broadcast, he asks for an uprising against the oppressive government to occur in exactly one year – on November 5th. Wiring explosives at Jordan Tower and arranging a swift getaway, he’s momentarily aided by Evey – causing him to reluctantly take her with him back to his underground “Shadow Gallery” dwelling when her ability to fend for herself is again called into question.
There’s more at work here than the historical references (the failed, treasonous attempt to blow up the House of Parliament) and implications, the symbolism, the nature of personhood, interpretations of coincidence, and extremist political commentary (namely, anarchism versus fascism) that preside over the morbid setting. A grand mystery unfolds as the officials, led by Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea), attempt to discover V’s identity and motives, while the masked killer himself seeks out and eliminates various people from his past who have wronged him. “Violence can be used for good,” insists V, exhilaratingly justifying aggressive forms of protection and protest while uncovering conspiracy and murder. In addition, the storytelling boasts paralleling editing, staged repetition, a twisty plot riddled with flashbacks, corresponding auxiliary tales that weave in and out of the current narrative, and cryptic hints at V’s urban legend backstory (itself fueled by notes of biological warfare and genocide).
“No one escapes judgment.” V is quite the antihero superhero (in the vein of Batman, lacking any real powers), intriguingly inserted into a “1984” environment where his likes are most needed and even more astonishing. In taking George Orwell’s seminal novel and twisting it into an action-packed revenge epic (actually based on Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s influential comic book, though heavily modernized here), complete with superbly cathartic moments, the film is one of the very best political thrillers of recent years. V fights overwhelming tyranny and pronounced villainy (in the forms of John Hurt’s High Chancellor Sutler and Tim Pigott-Smith’s Party Leader Creedy) while demonstrating grave notions of vigilantism, vengeance, deception, hatred, chaos, and the subversive power of ideas and symbols.
Also mixed into the plot is a nod to “The Count of Monte Cristo,” with emotional, severely shocking revelations born from the terrors of the Chateau d’If and a light sense of romanticism borrowed from the 1934 filmic adaptation’s parting shots. It’s all very sober, dramatic, awe-inspiring, and suspenseful. Even if it’s a tad overlong, the inventive dialogue – highlighted by V’s sensationally theatrical, alliterative, poetic speeches (and lowlighted by Hurt’s dictatorial ranting) – the explosive adventure, the riveting visuals, Portman’s powerful performance, and the striking finale (with the best bits appropriated from “True Lies” and “A Fistful of Dollars”) combine for a thoroughly entertaining masterwork.
– Mike Massie