Fear of controversy dulls novel’s edge
The protagonist, a man with a Guy Fawkes mask known only as V, has been terribly wronged by a totalitarian Britain of the near future, and seeks revenge.
This film adaptation, penned by the “Matrix” trilogy’s Wachowski Brothers and directed by Matrix first assistant James McTeigue, makes major changes to the original, sacrificing much of its complexity and moral provocation for a more straightforward story of romance and good versus evil.
Some of the controversy can’t be cut ― V is still a terrorist bomber in London seeking to do good ― but Warner Bros.’s decision to push back the film’s release by four months following the July attacks in London is emblematic of the adaptation’s cowardliness.
The graphic novel’s most inflammatory and challenging elements, such as its near-endorsement of anarchism and its unapologetic intellectualism, have been cut, while the harsh cruelty of both V and the dictatorship has been dulled.
Still, even the skeleton of Moore’s original work puts “V” a cut above the average sci-fi action thriller. Good acting and appealing visuals make the film an entertaining diversion.
The Britain of “V” is moving towards an Orwellian nightmare of utter control. The dictator, Adam Sutler (John Hurt) has used international chaos, political maneuvering and public scare tactics to build a strong executive backed by an omniscient secret police force known as “fingers.” Unlike the book, the film opens with the destruction of the Old Bailey and leads up to the climactic bombing of Parliament, the fulfillment of the Nov. 5, 1605 Gunpowder Plot of V’s ancestor Fawkes.
Over the course of the film, V (Hugo Weaving) befriends Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), the daughter of activists killed by police. Sheer bad luck makes her a public enemy, and she lives with V in his lair, a museum of banned material in the abandoned Victoria Station.
The film’s best moments come in showing how gays and lesbians have suffered in the new order. Deitrich (Stephen Fry), a closeted TV comedian who sacrifices his life for a blaze of satirical glory, is a very good addition. And the story of Valerie (Natasha Wightman), whose autobiography Evey finds written on toilet paper while in prison, is genuinely moving.
It’s easy to see why Warner Bros. cut so much out of “V for Vendetta,” both for time and for fear of causing offense. Also, the last time the Wachowskis got philosophically overambitious we got the “Matrix” sequels, so maybe it’s better this way. The film retains much of the style, conflict and ideology of the original, and it’s sure to make a political splash.
But the anti-authority message in the film still falls short of the original. It’s a bit ironic, if unsurprising, that Hollywood is pulling its punches with a story that would encourage moviegoers to think twice about their government.
by Ben Applegate