V for Vendetta

A for auteurs: With visual force, sly humor, widespread literary influences and a thing for odd locations (like subway stations), the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix) take control over projects.

B for belabored: Unfortunately, too much philosophical jibber-jabber diminishes the impact of V for Vendetta, a movie as in love with loud repetition as London revolution at the center of its plot.

C for cutting room: The brothers would have been wise to visit it after the 90-minute mark, when the movie strangely downshifts. It seems to forget “Vive la revolution!” and leaves la revolution.

D for director: Wait, didn’t the Wachowskis only write and produce V? Wouldn’t it be freshman director James McTeigue’s fault? Permit me to skip ahead a bit — F for figurehead filmmaker.

E for Evey: Natalie Portman plays this troubled woman in a futuristic, totalitarian London who’s saved from assault by V, a masked man fond of knives and alliteration. She then befriends him.

G for Guy Fawkes: V’s disguise is as a 17th-century British revolutionary who attempted to blow up Parliament. To inspire a slack-jawed populace, V (Hugo Weaving) wants to get the job done.

H for Hurt: As in John, playing Chancellor Adam Sutler, the hidden, Hitler-esque leader of Britain whose sluggish mantra is “England prevails.” How bad is he? He’s outlawed real butter.

I for Inspector, J for Joker and K for Killer: In a supporting cast of pasty, pale faces, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry and Tim Pigott-Smith stand out. Rea’s seen-it-all cop is invigorated by instincts as he explores V’s past and possible reasons for his anarchic anger. Fry’s late-night talk-show host offers comic relief, particularly in a priceless scene of Benny Hill mania. And as Sutler’s main muscle, Pigott-Smith is a menace when he wields both his truncheon and his psychotic ego.

L for layered: V’s best moments come when the Wachowskis roll together the power of words, symbols and perception with the passion of V’s rhetoric and the sadness of Evey’s past.

M for Matrix: But for a movie about going against conformity, it has clone tendencies — a from-the-skies shot of rain, slow-mo swooshes during fight scenes and those darn subway sets.

N for Natalie: It’s not Portman’s best work and her accent is choppy, but nobody cries with as much fragility as she can, and it’s a knockout moment when Evey starts to resemble …

O for O’Connor: As in Sinead, when Evey’s head is shaved bald when Sutler’s goons nab her.

P for powerful: This starts the film’s most elegant, involving sequence — offering a poetic flashback from a tangential character and the slightly sick side of how far V goes to prove a point.

Q for quirky: It’s part of what makes V a fascinating figure — a well-read subterranean dweller with fleeting sanity and a scarred psyche and body who is, nevertheless, strangely likeable.

R for repetitive: The Wachowskis wallow in details. We get that V was “born by fire” and that he has plenty of time to set up and knock over intricate domino patterns forming his nifty logo.

S for simple symbolism and T for taut topicality: There’s a lot of “if A=B and B=C, then A=C” stuff here — Sutler’s touts of faith equaling strength (Dubya), a pill-popping conservative TV guy (Limbaugh), a horror-of-horrors detention center (Abu Ghraib). There’s also an obvious Phantom-Christine vibe between V and Evey. Far better are brief bits such as Sutler’s ban of the 1812 Overture after it’s an attack soundtrack and criminals taking advantage of V’s own propaganda.

U for unending, V for villain overload and W for Weaving: The humorless final reel becomes a protracted list of Big Brother speeches from Hurt, twists that are silly even within its internal logic and a final scramble from Weaving to hold it all together. It’s quite something to see a film anchored so strongly by a man who never shows his face, but it’s easily the year’s best work so far. (X for … give me a break, X is too hard.)

Y for yowzer visuals and Z for zealous ideas: There’s room for any number of moods, scenes and expressions in V for Vendetta, and the scope of what it attempts is impressive. But it alternates with the touch of a feather and a hammer — far from groundbreaking and barely effective.


An award-winning film critic and features reporter, Nick has professionally written or gabbed about movies for Illinois newspapers, national syndicates, Playboy, The Art Immortal, The Film Yap and Midwest radio stations. He once drummed in a Billy Joel cover band known as Silly Joel and freely presents his Letterboxd page to engage and mock if you wish: https://letterboxd.com/ragekage79/

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