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V for Vendetta
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"V for Vendetta," rewritten by the American Wachowski brothers as an update of British writer Alan Moore's graphic novel of twenty years ago, turns out to be an allegory about the current Bush administration and its trampling of the constitution. Though set in Britain, it is a very perceptive allegory indeed.
The film begins on Guy Fawkes Day, November 5th, by recalling a moment in which Fawkes's attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605 is crushed; we then cut to November 5th in the year 2020, in a Britain that has become the prey of a fascist dictator, the Chancellor (John Hurt), a man who seized power under the guise of preserving the country's freedom from terrorism. Young Evey (Natalie Portman in a nicely understated performance with a decent British accent), a production assistant at the equivalent of the British Broadcasting Corporation, is on her way to dinner with her gay friend Deitrich (Stephen Fry), a flamboyant host of Britain's most popular television talk show. But she's stopped on the street by quasi-official hoodlums and saved by a man who wears a smiling, mustached Musketeer-like Guy Fawkes mask - a man known only as V (for Vendetta - it's Hugo Weaving or perhaps a stunt-man under the mask, but it is his voice in the film).
V takes Evey up to a London rooftop where she and we watch as his planted explosives blow up Old Bailey. He then announces that next year, on November 5th, he will blow up Parliament. The film cuts back and forth from V and Evey to the dictator's assembled police and politicians. The back-story is filled in - Evey's parents were killed by the regime years ago, victims of a government plan to blame terrorists for everything from massacres to a great epidemic. Evey becomes a kind of acolyte to V, until she is captured by unknown forces and kept in a kind of dungeon for months, while the cat-and-mouse game between V and the government's Chief Inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) gets more and more tense.
The Chancellor grows more paranoid as the search for V seems to stall; he has Deitrich killed, V invades the broadcasting center and programs his own message to the country about next November 5th. All of this is expertly handled by first-time director James McTeigue, who's been given some luscious sets to work with as well.
The Wachowskis, who have long since squandered the respect they got for writing and directing the first "Matrix," more than redeem themselves with the script for "V for Vendetta." It is sharply written and very bold in its insistence on confronting an administration that uses the threat of terrorism to mask its destruction of civil liberties. The film is a good support for the claims of those who say that graphic novels have the power to speak to our own lives; it's a reminder that not since "Maus" has there been a graphic story with resonance for our times. May there be more of them.
3/17/06 <! new pasted review ends on line above>