Thursday, December 21, 2006

"V for Vendetta" (2005)

At work I've got a pipeline delivering mainstream culture directly into my life. Despite my comprehensive efforts to remain blissfully ignorant of mass media entertainment, I am unable to avoid it entirely. It's rare that my resistance breaks down enough for me to be curious about a specific song, TV show, or film that society at large has embraced. Recently I grudgingly borrowed the V for Vendetta DVD. I was quite aware that it was based on a graphic novel by fashionable comics icon Alan Moore. His previous works, such as Watchmen and From Hell, have garnered him substantial support from an international audience. As I've had the opportunity to check out some of his work, I thought it might translate well into film and at the very least be mildly entertaining.

I wasn't wholly disappointed. No doubt the film, with screenplay by the overhyped Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix Series), had the requisite blood, slick karate moves, black-and-white caricatures of morality, unlikely love interest, and overly fancy camerawork- these are all necessary components of the Hollywood action genre. But there were a few surprises as well.

The cast is a mite better than one would expect from a comicbook adaptation. Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry and Natalie Portman gave solid performances. They are all known to ply their trade in the more intelligent exmples of modern cinematic fare. But the choice of Hugo Weaving for the lead seemed a bit wasteful. Weaving has plenty of attitude and personality, but it's difficult to overcome the disadvantage of having to play the entire role in a garish and rigid mask. Sure it's an unsettling masquerade at first, but it wears on the viewer... and by the end of the film I found it a bit ridiculous. But I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt, as I don't see how it could have been avoided.

I found the dialogue to be a bit more intriguing than I expected. There were plenty of literary references delivered in rapid cadence by Weaving, with his charming accent. Following Alan Moore's lead, the main character's literary tastes leaned toward the classical. This is actually a conceit that's a bit overplayed in modern comics writing (the hero with high-brow pretentions), but that hasn't been an issue in the adaptations that have come to the big screen.

Another element of the film that I enjoyed was its political satire. While at times the social commentary in the story strayed dangerously close to the overdone, it was (wholly taken) appropriate to the post-911 climate of fear and control. The "Voice of Britain" clearly references the wingnut punditry of the Conservative Right, and the government's dominance over the media is eerily representative of what we've seen in the USA over the last six years. The language of the leaders (with its manipulative spin) serves to keep the populace feeling helpless, and willing to trade their freedom for the perception of security. As cartoonish as these portrayals of power-hungry politicos are, they aren't very far off from our own reality.

Perhaps this film seems rather unlike a typical Hollywood production because many of its principals were not born in the United States. While American viewers may not recognize themselves in the bovine countenances of this movie's cowed citizenry, this is clearly meant to be a cautionary tale. If we forget the lessons of our revoluntary forefathers, both the canonized AND the truly radical among them, we face the possibility of these nightmares in the near future.

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