V for VendettaDavid LloydStephen ReaNatalie Portman
V for Vendetta
Medium: film
Year: 2005
Director: James McTeigue
Writer: Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Keywords: superhero, action, SF, dystopia
Country: USA, UK, Germany
Actor: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, John Hurt, Tim Pigott-Smith, Rupert Graves, Roger Allam, Ben Miles, Sinead Cusack, Natasha Wightman, John Standing, Eddie Marsan
Format: 132 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0434409/
Website category: Superhero
Review date: 24 May 2008
It's good stuff, both as a movie in its own right and as an Alan Moore adaptation, which are words you won't hear every day. It looks great and it's smart about its fidelity to the original. It makes changes, yes. However it's hard to disagree with them, especially in the context of a $54,000,000 movie.
There's only one thing wrong with it and I hear she's planning to cut back on being a movie star in favour of a career in psychology.
Yes, I'm talking about Natalie Portman. With this movie she became my least favourite Hollywood actress, despite the fact that in certain ways her performance here is quite good. She can play emotional states and deliver lines like a human being. I wouldn't say that much of Uma Thurman in The Avengers and Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral, for instance. What Portman's failing to do is subtler, but for me almost more important. She doesn't convey thought processes. Decisions? What are decisions? She's just playing a series of emotional states as the script tells her to, seemingly without even trying to convey those moments where a character's thoughts change direction and they come alive as a player in the story.
Portman creates real people I can believe in, but she's terrible at creating a dramatic character serving the script. Her characters are hollow. They seem passive, even if when you look at the script they're not at all. Of course she was great in Leon and oddly I can completely believe that she deserved her Golden Globe and her Oscar nomination. Obviously I'm rending my clothes in disbelief at her Saturn Award for Best Actress in V for Vendetta, but I'm sure she'd work well in many comedies or meandering Oscar-bait. However she's also pretty much wrecked some geek-favourite movies. She's the most damaging problem in Star Wars, despite the existence of Jar-Jar Binks, and here she's shocking. Look at that scene where she spills her guts to the bishop. She doesn't sell it at all. It didn't even occur to me that it wasn't a double-bluff. There's no weight or motivation behind any of her character's big decisions, which is quite a problem since the film's Evey's an even stronger lead than she was in the graphic novel. Leaving V, coming back again, her imprisonment... Portman's reacting, not acting.
As I said before, her reactions are fine. I completely buy her as a real human being in any given situation. What I have a problem with is her acting, in the literal sense of "portraying a character who takes actions".
I haven't even addressed the small matter of Evey's transformation. Evey is reborn. V does terrible things to her, but in the cause of turning a frightened creature into a strong, confident woman capable of blowing up the Houses of Parliament. It's pretty much the point of the film. She even gets a speech about it. As she tells it, she was standing in a queue when one of her former colleagues picked up Evey's dropped change, returned it to her and looked her in the eye without recognising her. That's how much V transformed her... according to the script. Unfortunately what's on screen is her usual mature, intelligent, cool and collected Natalie Portman persona. She's like that from beginning to end, although in fairness she does put a little more weight into the scene where she sends off the train.
Apart from her, everything's great.
I'd watch this again just for the acting. Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and Sinead Cusack are all delicious, while John Hurt and Tim Pigott-Smith are also good in less friendly roles. V's murder of Dr Delia Surridge is a devastating scene, far stronger than in the graphic novel, thanks to Cusack. Stephen Rea's Chief Inspector Finch is similarly more sympathetic and interesting than the original's, although a lot of that's the script too.
Then there's V himself. A lot of this story's characters are better and more vivid for being brought alive by actors, but V is actually less effective than the Moore-Lloyd version. It's his dialogue. Full masks don't work if you talk. They're far more effective as pure images... which is of course what they are in the comic. Word balloons don't change that. However in the movie he's quite the chatterbox and it makes him an odd and rather unique creation. He has his iconic moments, but for the most part he just comes across as Hugo Weaving in a mask rather than the sinister monster created by Moore and Lloyd. That doesn't mean he doesn't look great, though. David Lloyd's designs, authentically recreated, are what's perhaps still the most striking-looking masked hero in comics and the film didn't have to change a thing. Contrast and compare with Stallone's Judge Dredd, for instance.
He's also bonkers. Mad as a trout, albeit beautifully spoken. I'm sure Weaving had a ball playing him. I do like this film's V and I treasure the fact that they were brave enough to keep all that dialogue despite the obvious temptations. He's fascinating, but he's still a step down from the original.
The changes all make sense, although I can see why Alan Moore threw a hissy fit. The graphic novel was about anarchy versus fascism in England, while this is about American liberalism versus American neo-conservatism in what's basically America in a funny hat. They have English accents and I liked the authenticity of its American-bashing, but there's an English Fox News, an English Bill O'Reilly and an English Guantanamo Bay. I could buy most of it, but people's attitude to their televisions felt wrong to me. We're not so quick to dismiss what we hear on our news as lies, although admittedly if you gave us Fox News I'm sure we soon would be. Sutler's open use of Nazi-like symbolism would also never fly here, although it's easy to see why the film borrowed it. They're careful to establish that this is a near-future in which the environment is collapsing, strange diseases are on the rampage and the US is being torn apart by civil war, but even so the England it portrays is an affluent, modern world in which being black or homosexual doesn't seem as dangerous as being a Muslim.
It's all very different to the graphic novel, with its rather quaint touches like radio being a means of mass communication. The Moore-Lloyd version is darker and more distinctive, but I think the film's changes were right. We're no longer living amid miner's strikes, Thatcherism and memories of the Winter of Discontent. I like the fact that this big glossy comic-book movie from the Wachowski brothers is showing us the point of view of terrorists who want to bring down America. That's the heart of the matter. It's not really telling us anything we don't already know, but it still warms the heart to see a hero whose greatest deed is to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It's not as if it's Al-Quaeda propaganda like Battle Royale 2 or anything.
If they'd simply recreated the original's fascist dystopia, I wouldn't have believed in it. Here they put a lot of work into selling you their Nasty England and apart from the excessively American bits I bought it. I also liked the introductory bit about Guy Fawkes. Of course you've got to tell the audience who he is, while I laughed to see him painted without irony as a hero.
This is a good film and a clever adaptation, one which complements rather than blindly recreating. It's faithful in all the most important ways and I think a lot of its changes are improvements. I never really liked the original's final act, for instance, although the film's version of Chancellor Susan/Sutler is less interesting. One weird thing it does is to resurrect the dead! Check out the faces in that final crowd scene. I don't know what they're trying to say with that, but I liked it anyway. If I had my copy of the graphic novel with me, I'd check to see if that's taken from the original too.
Overall a fun, intelligent movie that makes light work of a hefty running time. It's also a cause for relief and wild celebration to have got an Alan Moore adaptation as faithful and well-made as this. The only problem is Natalie Portman, really.