V for Vendetta

Is it possible to agree with a movie’s ideas so much that you feel like you’re being pandered to? “V for Vendetta” uses futuristic fear-mongering to delineate liberal America’s worries about the power of the right wing, and the specific details of the fictional oppressive society read like Michael Moore’s checklist of complaints about George Bush: forfeiture of civil rights, using a national emergency for political gain, counting on a terrified populace to offer blind obedience, and so on.

The parallels between this Orwellian dystopia and the left wing’s fears about present-day America are so plain, in fact, that it feels like the film, faithfully adapted from a 1980s graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, is stating the obvious rather than presenting a radical new line of thinking. Liberal newspaper columnists express the same ideas as this film every day.

Ah, but the columnists don’t do it with Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, and an abundance of magnificent fight scenes.

Adapted by Andy and Larry Wachowski (creators of the “Matrix” movies) and directed by their frequent collaborator and first-time director James McTeigue, “V for Vendetta” delivers on its promise to entertain while it makes you think, even if what it’s making you think about isn’t exactly revolutionary. (“People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people” is one of the more trite platitudes expressed in an otherwise articulate screenplay.)

As V, the otherwise nameless masked freedom fighter who seeks to bring down the fascist regime ruling England, Hugo Weaving uses swords, knives and poisons to thrilling effect. Very much a Phantom of the Opera figure (with some Scarlet Pimpernel and Count of Monte Cristo thrown in), V has personal reasons for vengeance that cloud his for-the-greater-good philosophies, but that’s part of the film’s brainy appeal. As much as we might agree that the corrupt totalitarianism headed by Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt) needs to be brought down, how much murder and mayhem can we countenance in the doing of it? You have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, sure — but isn’t that probably the same rationalization Sutler used during his rise to power?

Natalie Portman, who famously shaved her head for part of the film, plays Evey, a young woman who comes to be V’s accomplice and sometime prisoner. Her parents were revolutionaries who were eliminated by Sutler’s camp years ago, and her own run-ins with the police have made her somewhat sympathetic to V’s cause. Seeking to remind people of what Guy Fawkes attempted on Nov. 5, 1605, V blows up a London landmark one Nov. 5, then urges citizens to join him in another act of extremism 365 days later. In the interim, V carries out his own agenda and works on persuading Evey to join him whole-heartedly, while the government desperately searches for the mysterious terrorist.

Is he a terrorist? Not in the traditional sense, no. He’s terrorizing the government, not the citizens. In fact, his stated goal is to help the common man be LESS afraid, by destroying the governing bodies that currently terrify them. Is America going down the same path that England is depicted as having traveled? Will the world look like this someday soon? And if so, is it necessary to blow things up in order to prevent it? “V for Vendetta” provides fodder for conversation and is a literate treatise, to be sure. It may go a little overboard in its desire to convince us of both its coolness and its insightfulness, but it’s fast-paced and smart enough to keep us onboard anyway.

B (2 hrs., 12 min.; R, scattered harsh profanity, a lot of violence, some of it rather strong.)