Wednesday, March 22, 2006

V for Vendetta (2006)

V is also for the vacuum in which this film exists. This film has a lot of problems, foremost being its unconvincing attempts at topicality. Despite the film's feints at relevance, it can't escape the fact that this is fascism-by-numbers. We get nothing here beyond the typical signifiers of a police state, and it's not even a very tightly controlled state (so Natalie Portman gets her head shaved and suddenly she no longer looks like herself?); any significance beyond what's onscreen qualifies as mere wishful thinking. The film itself, though, is very tightly controlled, and there lies another problem. Director James McTeigue and producers/writers Andy and Larry Wachowski stylize this so heavily that it never feels alive. It's a shame, too, because there are some good points about the film -- the depiction of V as sympathetic yet repellent (especially vis-a-vis his treatment of Evie), for instance, brings up the idea of whether or not we can believe in an idea whilst differentiating ourselves from the ideologically-repulsive person espousing said idea. (V, essentially, is a demagogue-in-training.) And I'd be lying by omission if I didn't admit that I found the genuine radicalism of the closing ten minutes thoroughly bracing and ballsy. But there's a long way to go before you get to that end passage. The filmmakers have tried to cram so much of Alan Moore's graphic novel into the film that the pacing becomes psychotic -- it's a frenetic stand-still. All that cramming and all the fussy visual stylization strangles the film. The funny thing is that McTeigue & company go ahead and acknowledge their own overdeterminism near the end of the film when Stephen Rea starts talking about a mid-story epiphany, and he speaks about having seen the whole of history laid out before him and "we're all trapped in it." That's it right there -- all the characters trudge through the film as through they're following dance patterns. The lone exception is Stephen Fry as the jovial variety-show host, who uses his natural good-natured sarcasm to float about the portent. He's involved in the film's best scene, where a impromptu rewrite on his show turns into a pointedly satirical burlesque grotesquerie. It's the one moment in the film that feels unexpected and sly, and that gives it the kick of the truly subversive. The rest of the film, as hard as it tries, can't match up. Handsome but hermetic, polished but plastic, V for Vendetta is ultimately as rigid and emotionless as the Guy Fawkes mask that V wears. It's an exquisite dead zone.

Grade: C


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