V for Visionary

Someone alert the media: This blockbuster is actually fantastic!

Since this is a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster, and I enjoy hating big-budget Hollywood blockbusters, let me start with two complaints.

First, loud, manipulative music runs over the dialogue in this film. If the dialogue has emotional force, it should carry that force without a raft of violins and a blaring chorus of trumpets. If the dialogue is not good enough to stand on its own, then it shouldn't be in a movie in the first place.

Second ... OK, I've only got one real complaint. There are a few little things, but V for Vendetta is a triumph, and proof that the Wachowski brothers are not nearly as stupid as the failed IQ test that was the Matrix movies would indicate.

The Wachowskis (who may be brother and sister, if rumors are to be believed) wrote, but did not direct, V for Vendetta. Nor did they really write it, since it's based on the comic book by Alan Moore, who, in a fit of pique, had his name removed from the movie. But they did "adapt it for the screen," and they did so without completely dumbing it down. They only partially dumbed it down, and in this age of Velcro shoes and creation science, that's a major victory.

The story takes place in a dystopian near future that is so horrible that Great Britain has become the world's only superpower. Jolly Old England is being run by right-wing religious zealots who employ torture, spy on their own citizens, wage war against homosexuals and Muslims, and manipulate the media to do their bidding. So it's like the United States would be, if (perish the thought!) George W. Bush had won the last election.

In this world, young Evey (Natalie Portman) is a factotum at the government-controlled television station. Sneaking out of her house past curfew one night, she is accosted by government thugs who intend to prove their heterosexuality violently, and without her permission. She is rescued from these officially sanctioned non-gay criminals by the mysterious V (Hugo Weaving), a man or woman (in the original comic book, V is likely a woman or perhaps a transsexual; in the movie, V seems to be a heterosexual man, though his/her identity is never revealed) who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and is adept at the art of non-consensual assisted suicide.

V then gives Evey a fireworks show which just happens to blow up The Old Bailey, location of London's criminal high court. Following this first date with her masked savior, Evey returns home, unaware that she is now being hunted by the police.

Blowing up buildings, while considered proper acts of lawful warfare when done by very large armies that speak English, is widely considered a terrorist act when done by smaller numbers of people who don't wear standard-order uniforms. Thus, the authorities decide to hunt down and/or kill V.

From there, the film follows an interesting trajectory, in that V, while the protagonist, is not a hero. It's true that the government he fights against is evil, and that his basic cause is just, but his tactics move from the comprehensible to the horrifying as he begins to mimic the techniques of those he hates.

And his ultimate goal of overthrowing the government isn't accompanied by a plan for creating a new, stable government to stop the chaos that would no doubt ensue if an evil, but otherwise functioning, central authority were simply removed.

Of course, since this is a big-budget Hollywood film, that moral ambiguity isn't especially highlighted, and you could go cheering to the movie's end without really thinking about it, but the fact that it's there at all is somewhat heartening.

In order to pack the complex plot into two hours, the Wachowskis rewrote much of the comic book, which had layer upon layer of plot, reference and mystery. In the end, this mostly works, though there are some enormous questions left unanswered.

V, seemingly working alone, manages to clear and build subway tracks, send out thousands of packages in a single night and port several tons of explosives. Assuming that the film is supposed to make sense, V must have secret accomplices in the government, but who these accomplices are is never revealed, nor are most of V's methods.

But I think that mystery is key to the film: Hints are given that anyone and everyone could be working with V, or could be V him/herself. And in the end, in a sense, everyone, living and dead, becomes V.

This fact makes this one of those rare uplifting films that doesn't achieve its emotional boost by sheer manipulation. Nor does it gain its thrills by nonstop action. In fact, during the vast majority of the film, no one is hitting anyone. That way, when there is violence, it has actual dramatic force instead of being just part of a monotonous series of staccato gunshot and bone-break sounds.

So really, on the whole, wow. I went in with very low expectations, and your mileage may vary, but I don't think anyone expected a March release of this quality and cleverness. Now if we can only continue to keep the Wachowskis away from Keanu Reeves, there may be hope for more mindful blockbusters.

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