V for Vendetta: A Retro DVD Review

vYesterday, I reviewed the V for Vendetta graphic novel. I was generally impressed, but a lot of “dystopia” material came out of the latter half of the 20th century, so by the time I got around to reading Moore and Lloyd’s work, I found it hard to be overly impressed. Also, the length of the story and the numerous elements introduced made it difficult to follow at times. That figures prominently into my review of the film V for Vendetta (2005).

First of all, who wouldn’t be excited to watch a film starring Hugo Weaving (as “V”), Natalie Portman (as “Evey”) and particularly John Hurt (as “Adam Sutler”)? I was really looking forward to the experience but at the same time, worried because films almost never do justice to their original print or graphic novel source. This time, I’m not so sure the rule holds.

I mentioned before that I believe Moore was a bit too lengthy in his writing of the graphic novel. It made it difficult for me as the reader to be able to grasp and hold all of the various threads he introduced and have them all come together in a cohesive manner by the last page. As a film where everything had to be introduced, expressed, and resolved in 132 minutes (the film’s running time), brevity and economy was forced upon the story, making the movie version of “V for Vendetta” quite a bit more efficient than the print version. Of course, part of the motivation behind cutting down the length was to accommodate modern audiences, both in how long they can tolerate sitting on their bum in a movie theatre, and in appealing to a wider population than might be attracted to Moore’s and Lloyd’s production.

Any film or other creative work is not only a product of the artists involved but of the point in history in which it was made. The graphic novel was written over a period of years in the 1980s while the film version was released in 2005. While the span of two decades didn’t overly affect the content of the film compared to the graphic novel (although the film “tightened things up” quite a bit, it was still pretty faithful to its source), the world in the film wasn’t quite as dark and depressing as the graphic novel.

It made “V” somewhat less “scary” in the film and it allowed for the police, and particularly Chief Inspector Finch (played by Stephen Rea) to actually portray “good guys” rather than government stooges, wife beaters, and homicidal maniacs.

There were weak spots. I thought it was a little too convenient for Creedy to be able to deliver Adam Sutler, the dictator of the UK in the film, to “V” more or less on command. Someone like Sutler would have had multiple layers of protection and I can’t believe someone as paranoid as Sutler would have allowed himself to be put in a position not only to be captured, but spirited away from his stronghold to an underground train station just to be shot in the head.

I understand that “aging” Evey was probably necessary, but in the graphic novel she was 15 years old. Making her an adult took away some of her vulnerability and the “transference” of her dependence to “V” as a father figure after the assassination of her parents (this dynamic is shifted into a “beauty and the beast” type of love story). Yes, I previously acknowledged Portman’s star power and audience attraction, and comprehend why she would have been cast as Evey, but it made especially the scene where she had to dress up as a little girl to be used as bait to set up pedophile Bishop Lilliman a little ridiculous.

Not everyone is good at accents. When I first saw Bob Hoskins in the role of Private Detective Eddie Valiant in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), it never occurred to me that Hoskins wasn’t an American. In fact, if someone had suggested to me back then that Hoskins was British, I would have bet any amount of money against the possibility…

…and I would have lost my shirt. The guy played the drunken, down-and-out, “cheap detective,” brilliantly.

Which brings me back to Natalie Portman who is also a brilliant actress and an asset to this film…but her British accent was awful. First of all, even when she was able to maintain the accent for more than a minute or two, I just knew by listening to her that she wasn’t British. Then too was her inability to maintain the accent consistently throughout the film. More often than not, she spoke her lines just like Natalie Portman would have spoken her lines in a dozen other films where she wasn’t expected to pretend that she was a native of the UK. Frankly, if the accent was such a problem, Portman should have just ditched it. The story writers could have created a line or two of dialogue explaining her American accent or just ignored it completely and let the story tell itself. After all, who even cares about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent, regardless of what role he’s playing? For the purposes of this movie, Portman’s usual speaking voice would have been fine.

I didn’t like the ending, but I understood it was the sort of populist stuff the film makers thought the audience would want. In the end, “V” dies, but in the graphic novel, no one realizes this since Evey takes over his role, mask and all. At the end of the film, Evey never dons the mask and even partners up with Finch! At the end, all of the “rioting” citizens take off their masks, revealing ordinary human faces (even the people who had died in the film were in the crowd). I’m surprised that all of London didn’t break out into a chorus of We Are the World.

No mass shootings. No atrocities at the film’s climax (plenty of them during the film, however). The soldiers, lacking their dictator and his number one henchman to guide them (they’re both dead, victims of “V” by this point in the movie), they stand down and just let the crowd sort of wash over them. We know from the much more tame Occupy Wall Street movement that when police and soldiers are confronted with an advancing mob of thousands or tens of thousands, all wearing Guy Fawkes masks, who have an uncertain intent, people end up getting gassed, beaten, arrested, detained, restrained, and shot. Something like that should have happened here, but it wouldn’t have been the happy ending the audience wanted to see (or the happy ending the film makers thought the audience wanted to see).

And who was going to be the new leader?

I know what the film was trying to say. It was trying to say that “the people” would run their own lives. However, history shows us that in any revolution (from the American revolution in the U.S. to the Communist revolution in Cuba), the revolutionaries create a temporary state of anarchy when they overthrow the corrupt government, but then the revolutionaries form the basis of the new government. Even if that government is supposed to be by and for the people, eventually, it will take on a life of its own, establish its own priorities, and enforce its own existence.

At the end of the graphic novel, just as in the film, “V” realizes that he isn’t the one to be part of rebuilding the nation. He is perfect for introducing anarchy, but rage, hate, and revenge aren’t a good platform upon which to build the people’s utopia. That’s where Evey comes in. But in the novel, she dons the mask, the hat, and the cape and she becomes “V”. No one knows the difference but she’s a different “V”, one who has the capacity for love, tenderness, and hope. Everyone was looking to “V” for the future once he ended the corruption of the past. If Evey doesn’t fill the void, then who will?

Beyond the film and the graphic novel (and the Occupy movement for that matter), there is no sustainable “happy ending.” After the ending credits roll, in real life, real people will still live on and people tend to form systems, from family systems to governmental systems. That might not make a good movie, but not addressing that reality made the “conclusions” of the stories for “V for Vendetta” ring hollow.

All that said, the film is a worthwhile watch. Given the events occurring in the world today, revolution is hard not to think about. “V for Vendetta” speaks to those thoughts and feelings, so I can understand the popularity of this film. It is well written and except for what I’ve already mentioned, well acted. I’m glad that I saw the film and read the graphic novel. I just don’t believe it would have all ended so well.

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