V for Vendetta (2005)

Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore, who asked that his name be removed from the film, and David Lloyed, V for Vendetta tells the story of a masked vigilante fighting against a totalitarian state in a dystopian England. The film begins on the eve of the 5th of November, the anniversary of Guy Fawkes ill-fated attempt to blow up parliament with gun powder. We meet a young girl Evey who is saved from the "finger-men", or secret government agents, by the mysterious "V", a man who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and speaks in a florid style. V takes her to the rooftops to witness an exploding Old Bailey. Bit by bit we learn what has sparked V's mission of revenge against the government, Evey's transition from a slightly disillusioned citizen to a revolutionary, and the workings of a fascistic state. It is an important film for what it tells us about how totalitarian governments come to power and operate, keeping the populace ignorant through media and various manipulations of events. It makes strong points on homophobia, racism, terrorism and justice. Unfortunately, much of this is undercut by poor directorial decisions that leave everything feeling a little flat.

The film comprises a great cast, with Natalie Portman as Evey, Hugo Weaving as V, Steven Fry, Roger Allam and others. I especially like the casting of John Hurt as the dictator, Adam Sutler, in reference to his earlier role as Winston Smith in the film 1984. This time around Hurt is playing the role of Big Brother, looming over his underlings from a giant television screen. There is so much material for the film makers to work with that it seems they were at a loss as to what to do with it. The screenplay is written by the Wachowskis, whose work on the  Matrix series shows they are not averse to political and thoughtful work. But here they never seem to get beneath the surface of what is going on. The plot turns into a simple cat and mouse game with the men hunting for V and much of the commentary on fascism is unexceptional. Things are not helped by the film being a little overlong and the editing decisions meaning that certain subplots and characters disappear for long stretches rather than being woven together in a satisfactory way. This is something that works in a comic book, but less well on film.

I would definitely recommend giving it a watch as there are a couple of standout scenes and a solid cast. The direction at times is a little underwhelming that lets down some solid material. The comic is a complex work that features numerous grey character and the attempt to shoehorn it into a typical superhero format  leaves it feeling like you a missing something. The main thing the film is now known for, along with the comic, is the origin of the Guy Fawkes mask that has come to be used as a common symbol of the fight against oppression for a number of causes. If nothing else it gives a pretty comprehensive account of how easy it is for societies to slip into totalitarianism if the citizens do not remain vigilant.