V FOR VENDETTAdirected by James McTeigue, written by Andy and Larry Wachowski from the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, with Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving and Stephen Rea. 132 minutes. A Warner Bros. release. Opens Friday (March 17). For venues and times, see Movies, page 97. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
V for Vendetta is at its best when it's using images directly from Alan Moore's and David Lloyd's original comics, later collected as a graphic novel.
The figure of V in cloak and Guy Fawkes mask, dashing through the darkened streets of a near-future London that looks almost Victorian, seems made for the movies. So do his explosions, his flashing knives and his art-laden secret hideout.
Unfortunately, those moments are relatively few and given nowhere near the life they have in Lloyd's illustrations. In between them, we're with the cop on his trail and the corrupt political bosses. Those scenes are directed with all the panache of low-rent television.
Moore's original tale centred on a masked madman seeking personal vengeance and government overthrow. Near-future England is dying in the grip of Christian-based fascism, and V (Hugo Weaving) stands foursquare for happiness, liberty and anarchy. Moore makes much of the emotional and spiritual awakening of Evey (Natalie Portman), the teenage stray V takes in, and reveals how the mechanisms of power warp the private lives of those who control them.
All this is gone or vastly simplified in the movie. V isn't mad; he's more masked brooder than antic spirit. Evey's awakening is so downplayed that her breakthrough while captured and tortured seems cobbled out of thin air.
A look at the work of Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson makes it obvious that film is a form that can handle complex stories and ideas.
Here, the political dimension is reduced to shots of the leader (John Hurt) bellowing ruthlessly at his underlings, undifferentiated brutes in suits. The scenes of TV viewers' scoffing at political tripe, meant to depict a future fascist Britain, are no more intense than anything you might experience in a Toronto bar.
V's story is simplified, and we spend too much time with the cop on his trail ( Stephen Rea). Doing his very best Humphrey Bogart impression, Rea is good, but his performance can't sustain a two-hour-plus movie.
Portman and Weaving offer nothing special. We don't believe her as a shell-shocked victim. Though Weaving deserves credit for taking on a role that's all mask and cloak, he does little with his body but look iconic. His voice is expressive, but sadly, it mostly expresses heaviness. At least that's something.
If you want to spend your money, do it on the graphic novel. It's far more enjoyable.