Wednesday, 24 August 2011

100 Days, 100 Films; Day 69 - V For Vendetta

#32 - V For Vendetta

Remember, remember the 5th of November, the gunpowder treason and plot. I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot...
People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people...
Yes I'm aware I broke some unspoken rule and opened today's entry with two quotes but they were both from this film. It seems as though I'm getting into a bit of a habit of watching and reviewing films made from comic books/graphic novels that I've never even read but then again I've never read the books of Jaws, Psycho or even all of Lord of the Rings so do with that what you will. Today's film is once again close to my British roots and in some cases it's kind of an anti British-film, going against the normal traditions you usually see with them. Shall we begin then?

It is about ten or so years into the future, around 2022 but I'm not sure. The world is very different as apparently the United States is now the world's biggest leper colony and England is under rule from a savage dictator called Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). He rules with an iron fist, enforcing curfews, censoring free speech and offing anyone deemed "undesirable" including political activists, homosexuals, Jews, Muslims and that sort of crowd. On the night the film begins we follow a young lady Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman) who runs afoul of the secret police but is saved by a mysterious man in a Guy Fawkes mask, calling himself V (Hugo Weaving). He promptly blows up the Old Bailey (while playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture) and announces to the country that in one year's time on the 5th of November he plans to blow up the Houses of Parliament in an attempt to reform society. Because Evey is seen publicly with him, she is now a fugitive by default and V takes her to his underground sanctuary, telling her she must stay there for an entire year until he blows up Parliament. Evey of course is none too happy about this but meanwhile outside V's message is having quite the effect on the British public.

What we have here is a pretty dramatic and exciting thriller that has similarities to the likes of "1984" and "Fahrenheit 451" (except it doesn't have a number in the title) in that it deals with government oppression and the public reacting to it. Strangely when watching it back, I had no idea it was so long until I checked the running time and found it was over two hours. When watching it back I didn't pay attention to the time at all which is quite a feat considering with a lot of films I tend to lose interest whenever my food runs out. This film definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat in a good way and has a very interesting plot that draws you in and keeps you guessing. I'll admit I didn't quite get it all when I first watched it but after watching it a few more times (and getting a lot of help from the FAQ section of its IMDb page) I understand it easily now. Obviously the film does take a lot from real-life historical dictators like Hitler and Mussolini, particularly with the Larkhill Detention Centre where all the "undesirables" were sent to be experimented on as well as all the propaganda the media uses such as covering up V blowing up the Old Bailey as an "emergency demolition" (though even the public aren't silly enough to swallow that). Then there's a lot of more modern stuff relating to fears of this kind of government today, like the black bagging and fear mongering. 

I felt guilty not saying something good about Hugo Weaving in The Matrix but thankfully I can say nothing but good things about him in this. He never appears properly on screen without some kind of mask on but he is brilliantly dynamic as V, the literal human form of an idea. He gives himself a unique and fascinating voice that's almost theatrical but fitting with the character. V is a fan of Shakespeare and has a thing for classic films so it makes sense for him to be a little dramatic and over-the-top in his mannerisms. I never thought of Hugo Weaving as that much of a badass but here he plays one and steals the show doing it. I do read a lot of criticisms about Natalie Portman and her English accent in this but, speaking as someone who's very critical of accents (*cough* James Marsters) I didn't find anything wrong with it. It would be a bit too posh for someone modern but there are of course still some proper toffs among us today (I used to be one in fact but got rid of it through sheer will power and a handful of cockney friends). In fact I prefer her with that voice and I wish she could be English all the time. As for her performance, she works well with Hugo Weaving and they have some nice chemistry together. Evey is definitely one of Nattie's more complex roles and I have to give the girl props for still looking sexy with a bald head. Stephen Rea does a great Northern English accent as Detective Finch and is on form as always, being actually a bit witty in some scenes. John Hurt is fantastic as Chancellor Sutler and is a little unnerving as a modern combination of Hitler, Mussolini and Big Brother so that you want to see him stopped. Stephen Fry is brilliant as always and his big scene is pretty lol-worthy. The likes of Sinead Cusack, Natasha Wightman, Tim Piggot-Smith and Rupert Graves have smaller roles but are pretty memorable and make for a pleasing ensemble cast.

There are a good few memorable scenes in this and one of the coolest things I have ever seen is the massive domino display of the V logo that gets knocked over to make for a visually impressive shot. Apparently it was all done with real dominoes, and no CGI at all (not that I don't like CGI, it's just nice to see real things like that used in filmmaking). The blowing up of the Old Bailey is a great display as well, especially with the music and the fireworks. I like how it draws in a few minor characters that appear later on in the film, it ties in with Finch's whole "everything is connected" speech later on. The final scene is probably the film's way of saying the first scene set a standard but now we're going to double that and wow you even more. And that they did, especially with that epic shot of the thousands of people unmasking. 
For dramatic scenes, Valerie's letter is one of the most heartening and saddening scenes I've ever watched. Evey finds a letter written by a lesbian woman who recalls her whole life and how she became a successful actress and had a lovely relationship but how it all changed when Sutler came to power and she was captured. That shot of Valerie sitting motionless on her couch as the secret police burst into her house and surround her is pretty harrowing. The music doesn't help. The scenes with Evey in prison are all quite powerful as we see her character evolve from a naiive everyday girl into a woman who's not afraid anymore. There is a big scene that I hate watching and I wish I could edit the film so it isn't in there but it sadly has a very big impact on the plot and you really have to watch it. It involves slow-motion shots of V slicing up a group of the secret police and large red splotches of blood flying up into the air. It looks hokey and tacky and it just doesn't belong. I know we're all sick of ramping where the footage slows down and then speeds up but here I think it would have actually helped. Nonetheless even that one scene isn't enough to bring the film down with me. Just take it in a stride and enjoy the rest of the film.

Naturally there are obviously a lot of political anarchists who are fans of this film but I am neither political nor an anarchist (I guarantee you I wouldn't be able to tell you who's in the government right now) so that should show you that you don't have to be one to enjoy this film, if you're afraid of "crossing the line" so to speak. Obviously it wasn't that well received but neither was Fight Club and that has now gotten a whole lot of recognition as the years rolled by. This film wasn't actually as controversial as that but I do see it getting a lot more recognition and it does have some note as a cult film right now. As one reviewer put it, the film "works as a political thriller, adventure and social commentary and it deserves to be seen by audiences who would otherwise avoid any combination of the three". I guess I wouldn't see any of the three so that statement has some merit. Remember remember the works of Bobby, I know of no reason why they should ever be...well you get the rest. Oh and the whole following me on Twitter thing, there's that as well. Take care folks.

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