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Film Review: <i>V for Vendetta</i> from the makers of <i>The Matrix</i> trilogy

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V for Vendetta

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If you watched The Matrix, and its sequels, you should have noted a certain anti-government theme. A certain 'you are a complacent dupe plugged into government, subservient to its will, and too stupid or comfortable to leave.' That movie was written by the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry. Well, they're back. V for Vendetta was adapted by the Wachowski brothers from a graphic novel of the same title, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. This movie was made for the people who have to be hit over the head. This time they aren't hinting.

The tagline for V for Vendetta says it all: "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

Who is "V"?!!!! That is what the government wants to know. It is central on its mind. Anonymity. Chaos. Disorder. Something the government doesn't control. Government cannot have that. It takes the movie, but in the end we finally get our answer to whom V is.

I am not sure how this movie will fare at the box office. The great action scenes and special effects in The Matrix trilogy are almost completely omitted here. Those who drool over the latest action flick that needn't bother with dialogue will be disappointed. Those who love the gore and mayhem of how to kill people in every sickening manner Hollywood can dream up will have wasted their money. That is not to say there isn't action, there isn't violence, but....

But if you ever, I mean ever in the deepest part of your soul, ever wanted to stick it to the government... I mean tell the IRS to go take a leap, or hell, give them a return that sends them strait to hell... tell the licensing jerk at your local government what you really thought of waiting in line to beg for permission to... get that pompous, uncaring County Supervisor to open his eyes in terror and listen to you for once... make that cop who pulled you over swallow hard with fear... this is the movie that says everything you wanted to say, but knew you would be locked away or just plain shot in a pre-dawn raid. This is the movie for you.

This movie tells the tale of government coming into power not with overwhelming force, but with fear. By making you progressively fearful, the people increasingly hand over their freedoms for promised securities, until the only thing to fear is government itself. And fear you do. Hell you even hide the fear, ignore it, pretend it isn't there, it cannot be your government doing this to you. It shows you how government does this. And it shows you how to defeat government. The secret is ... well, you have to see the movie, or read the very end of this review.

To tell you specifics would be to spoil the movie. But be prepared to pay attention. It is funny, tragic, comic bookish, heroic, villainy, and above all entertaining. Government should be fearful of the audience reaction I witnessed: Cheering and clapping at the end. If this continues government will be very fearful indeed.

Two big thumbs up, because I liked this movie a lot, and I am big enough to deserve to deliver two thumbs all by myself. Released March 17, 2006 (Warner Bros. Pictures) in both Theaters and IMAX. This film has been rated "R" by the MPAA for "strong violence and some language." If this is an "R" rated movie, I would ask, 'why they don't want your 13 year old to see?'

Moderate spoilers from here on ... the plot in outline, so if you wish to know absolutely nothing about this movie cease reading here ....................................................................................................................................................

From Warner Bros. synopsis (abridged from Rotten Tomatoes): V For Vendetta is set in London in the near future. Though still anchored by venerable landmarks such as Parliament, Old Bailey and Big Ben, the city, like the rest of the country, has fallen into a state of post-war isolation and depression.

Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) wrested incalculable power over this tightly-controlled society by championing his extremist Norsefire party as England's only safeguard against war, disease and famine. Yet Sutler's oppressive policies have stripped the culture of its spirit, vitality and hope. Food is rationed but fear is in great supply. Personal freedoms are an antiquated notion of the past, and no one dare raise a voice in dissent, lest they be "black bagged" by Fingermen - Minister Creedy's secret police force - and never heard from again.

V For Vendetta tells the story of a young working-class woman named "Evey" (Natalie Portman) who is rescued from a life-and-death situation by a masked man known only as "V."

Profoundly complex, "V" (Hugo Weaving) is at once literary, flamboyant, tender and intellectual, a man dedicated to freeing his fellow citizens from those who have terrorized them into compliance. He is also bitter, revenge-seeking, lonely and violent, driven by a personal vendetta. [One note: Hugo Weaving does a great job of acting almost entirely behind a mask. A real accomplishment transferring humanity without us being able to see his face, not unlike Hurt in The Elephant Man.]

In his quest to free the people of England from the corruption and cruelty that have poisoned their government, V condemns the tyrannical nature of their appointed leaders and invites his fellow citizens to join him in the shadows of Parliament on November the 5th – Guy Fawkes Day.

On that day in 1605, Guy Fawkes was discovered in a tunnel beneath Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder. He and his co-conspirators had engineered the treasonous "Gunpowder Plot" in response to the tyranny of their government under James I. Fawkes and his fellow saboteurs were hanged, drawn and quartered, and their plan to take down their government never came to pass.

In the spirit of that rebellion, in remembrance of that day, V vows to carry out the plot that Fawkes was executed for attempting on November 5th in 1605: he will blow up Parliament.

As Evey uncovers the truth about V’s mysterious past, she also discovers the truth about herself – and emerges as his unlikely ally in the culmination of his plan to ignite a revolution, bringing freedom and justice back to a society fraught with cruelty and corruption.

Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) is the detective on the hunt for V, racing to stop his string of murders and find him before he fulfills his promise to destroy Parliament on the 5th of November. Leading the state's investigation into the mysterious and eerily similar murders of several prominent figures, Finch is determined at the outset to simply catch the elusive terrorist and his seeming accomplice, Evey.

Director James McTeigue describes V for Vendetta as a political thriller first and foremost with a very dark and multifaceted character at its center. "On one hand, V is altruistic, believing he can bring about great social change, but on the other hand he has a murderous vendetta towards anyone who's done him wrong."

While preparing for V for Vendetta, McTeigue was influenced by a host of films, principal among them 1965's The Battle of Algiers, a highly realistic account of the Algerian revolution against the French, fought from 1954 to 1962. Like Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, George Orwell's 1984, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 or Lindsay Anderson's If...., V For Vendetta cautions against the dangers of corruption, control, manipulation and repression, while exploring the perils of extremism - whether it be a government abusing its power or an individual taking the law into his own hands.

"V For Vendetta is a multi-layered film," says producer Joel Silver, whose long and impressive film career includes the groundbreaking Matrix trilogy and seminal action films such as the Lethal Weapon series, Die Hard and Predator. "It can be enjoyed as a dynamic action picture, or audiences can go deeper into the complex issues and ideas it explores, about the individual's responsibility for the power they entrust to their government, and what means are necessary or acceptable to bringing an end to tyranny. It raises a lot of fascinating questions, but doesn't provide any easy answers."

The film is based on the graphic novel of the same name - V for Vendetta first appeared in Warrior, an independent monthly comic magazine published in 1981, quickly capturing a cult following. Co-created by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, it ran in 26 issues before the magazine folded, leaving fans hanging mid-plot. After a five-year hiatus, Moore and Lloyd completed V for Vendetta in 1989 under the DC banner when it was released in its entirety as a graphic novel.

"The principal message is that every individual has the right to be an individual, and the right - and duty - to resist being forced into conformism," comments Lloyd. "V resists by directly attacking government installations and murdering the regime's supporters. So it's not just a story about a battle against an evil tyranny, but a story about terrorism and whether terrorism can ever be justified - and that's something we have to try to understand if we're ever to solve the problem of it in the real world."

Said Director McTeigue, "We [with the Wachowski's ] felt the graphic novel was very prescient to how the political climate is at the moment. It really showed what can happen when society is ruled by government, rather than the government being run as a voice of the people. I don't think it's such a big leap to say that things like that can happen when leaders stop listening to the people."

In the film V's horribly burned and disfigured face remains hidden behind a mask that carries the visage of Guy Fawkes, another legendary saboteur who came to a violent end over four hundred years ago…

“V” wears the mask to hide his physical scars, and in obscuring his identity, V becomes more than just a man with a revolutionary idea - he becomes the idea itself. This underscores V's belief that a man can be defeated, but ideas can endure and retain their power forever. V's mask also provides contrast to the metaphorical "masks" worn by his fellow citizens, who have surrendered their individual identities and beliefs in order to assimilate and avoid persecution by the government.

Portman found Antonia Fraser's Faith and Treason about the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 informative. "I learned about the British royal oppression of Catholics and their uprising and the inspiration for Macbeth coming from all the plots on King James I's life."

Rea feels the ideas in the story are timeless. "It's about what happens when government pushes people too far. It's a warning, a pretty ancient warning, about the function of government and its responsibility toward its citizens.

The villainous head of England's totalitarian regime is Chancellor Sutler, played by the venerable John Hurt, two-time Oscar nominee for his lauded performances in Midnight Express and The Elephant Man. Sutler's government rules by fear, ensuring submission of its citizens through intimidating means - secret police, constant surveillance and the threat of imminent and apocalyptic dangers. Censorship, propaganda, and subverting freedom of speech are the order of the day, and eliminating minorities is but a necessary casualty. "Sutler represents a society that believes that a fascist government is the best way to run a country," says Hurt. "Don't ask questions, let the Party get on with it and above all, don't criticize our authority."

Ironic Production Note

[As with the multiple permissions secured to film on Whitehall, the production also had to obtain authorization for the use of the two tanks and simulated weaponry during rehearsals and filming at the location.

The decommissioned ex-military tanks were acquired from a prop warehouse in the UK. Prior to transporting the vehicles to Whitehall for filming each night, the tanks were inspected off-site by government security personnel to ensure their weaponry was not functional nor had been altered in any way. They were then taken via trucks to the location - with no stops or changes to the tanks allowed during transport - and were accompanied by security officials at all times. (On screen and on set, the tanks moved under their own power.)

Background checks were conducted on every actor and technician who carried simulated weapons during production of the Whitehall sequence. Barcodes on the weaponry were scanned to track each piece and the individuals authorized to handle them.

Meanwhile, government security personnel surrounded the production at all times - some of whom were identifiable to the cast and crew, and others who maintained anonymity within the crowd to ensure the security of everyone involved.]

The secret? The secret is to cease being afraid to start making them afraid.

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Thu, Mar 16, 2006 - Listen to what you didn't hear this morning on Rachel's show when she interviewed Stephen Rea hot off the set from V for Vendetta. Here is the full 13 min interview and check out what was left on the cutting room floor.

Click here to listen!*