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V for Vendetta

Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, and John Hurt star in a film based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, written by Andy and Larry Wachowski, and directed by James McTeigue.

In V for Vendetta, we have a future Great Britain ruled by a dictatorship. All power is held by an alliance of the national security apparatus (fear) and evangelical religion (guilt). This alliance took power by capitalizing on a disaster that they themselves had brought about. Now there has arisen a one-man resistance movement, calling himself “V,” who dresses like a Jacobean inquisitor and wears a mask that is a stylized image of Guy Fawkes, the Catholic nobleman who was caught planting explosive charges under Parliament on November 5, 1605 — an event celebrated annually, with fireworks, in Great Britain, but unknown in America, except to hardcore Anglophiles. V thinks the Britons should take out the trash and start over. He announces his arrival by blowing up the Old Bailey courthouses.

Nothing could be more inappropriate than to film this story in the film noir or heavy metal style, styles which speak either to a hopelessly corrupt city of night or a Wagnerian daydream. The Wachowskis and James McTeigue have made a movie that, for all its comic book origins, has a serious intention, so the style is more like Costa-Gavras with a touch of optimism.

The script calls for actors of rare abilities, and the movie has them. Natalie Portman’s power seems to grow exponentially with every picture. She draws the viewer into her character, compels empathy, breaks all hearts as she breaks her own. Stephen Fry has a special, immensely likable presence in everything he does. As the two honest, apolitical detectives who are trying to track down V like they would any perpetrator, Stephen Rea and Rupert Graves get us to trust them as they decide — rare in totalitarian regimes — to trust each other. And that is what the Wachowskis want us to do: trust each other. This is quite a wonderful film.

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