Combustible Celluloid
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With: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, James Purefoy, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Sinead Cusack
Written by: Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, based (uncredited) on a comic book by Alan Moore
Directed by: James McTeigue
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and some language
Running Time: 132
Date: 12/11/2005

V for Vendetta (2006)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

You Can Count on 'V'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Legendary comic book writer Alan Moore (Watchmen, From Hell) recently denounced Andy and Larry Wachowski's screenplay adaptation of V for Vendetta, but that's just who he is. If fans had observed him smiling and embracing a giant, corporate movie, he would have lost some of his mythic outsider status.

In truth, Moore and the Wachowskis have quite a bit in common. When Moore began V for Vendetta all the way back in 1982, it was a veiled cry against Margaret Thatcher and a call for justice and freedom. The Wachowskis have kept the English setting and have moved it to the near future, but their tale revolves around a self-righteous, conservative government led by the maniacal Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt) -- perhaps too maniacal. How did the people living in this world ever get behind this ranting lunatic?

In any case, only the thickest of viewers will fail to connect this supervillain, who rose to power during a time of emergency, with the current U.S. administration.

Enter our hero, V (Hugo Weaving), a new kind of revolutionary with a master plan. He wears a smiling, Guy Fawkes mask, a smooth black wig and a flowing black cape. He speaks with a sophisticated, erudite vocabulary, peppering it with French phrases, and wields an array of blades with kung-fu elegance.

Rather than rescuing busloads of people, he prefers to set an example and nurse a spark of hope. His fate intertwines with beautiful Evey (Natalie Portman), the daughter of anti-government radicals, when he rescues her from a typical comic book back alley attack. Meanwhile, a curious government official, Finch (Stephen Rea) tries to figure out what's really going on.

The Wachowskis like Big Ideas in their films. They have a penchant for overloading and over-explaining, as in the Matrix sequels (Reloaded and Revolutions), but when the various elements are revealed gradually, as in The Matrix (1999) and V for Vendetta, it works beautifully. The Wachowskis and their first-time director James McTeigue (an assistant on all three The Matrix films) successfully layer their agenda within a gripping, puzzle-box story laden with quizzical clues.

The key is in the effective performances by Portman and Weaving. The masked hero could easily have morphed into a soulless special effect, but Weaving's clever phrasing and movements keep him touchingly human. In fact, unlike many other comic book movies, V for Vendetta never forgets the human foundation among the pyrotechnics and visual effects. It always takes time out for a pause, a thought or a song -- something for the soul and the heart as well as for the guts.

Warner Home Video has released a top-notch double-disc set of this movie, and I was surprised how fast it sucked me back into a second viewing. The extras are relegated mostly to little making-of featurettes (there's no commentary track), and those reclusive Wachowskis are nowhere to be seen (if you were thinking of checking out the new and improved Larry, think again). There's also an Easter egg on Disc Two. Highlight the logo at the top of the second screen, and you'll see a clip of Portman performing a faux gangster-rap song on "Saturday Night Live."

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