V for Vendetta (2005)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #96

Freedom! Forever!

Country: UK, USA & Germany
Language: English
Runtime: 132 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 23rd February 2006 (Finland)
UK Release: 17th March 2006
US Release: 17th March 2006
First Seen: cinema, 2006

Stars
Natalie Portman (Léon, Thor)
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Captain America: The First Avenger)
Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, Underworld Awakening)
Stephen Fry (Wilde, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)
John Hurt (Alien, Hellboy)

Director
James McTeigue (Ninja Assassin, The Raven)

Screenwriters
The Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix, Speed Racer)

Based on
V for Vendetta, a graphic novel by Alan Moore & David Lloyd.

The Story
In the near future, Britain is ruled by a tyrannical fascist government — considering the film was made in 2005, it’s probably set in about 2016 right? Anyway, masked freedom fighter V has his sights set on overthrowing the oppressive regime, partly in revenge for what they did to him…

Our Heroes
In lieu of the more commonplace sobriquet, permit me to suggest the character of this dramatis persona. Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. His visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish the venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that you may call him V. Also Evey, a young woman V rescues and subsequently takes under his wing as a kind of protégée.

Our Villains
The fascist regime ruling near-future England, led by Supreme Chancellor Donald Trump Adam Sutler and enforced by numerous toadies.

Best Supporting Character
Gordon Deitrich is a TV host who delivers government-sanctioned comedy to the masses, despite his distaste for the regime. Could something inspire him to stand up for what’s right? But at what cost?

Memorable Quote
“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” — V

Memorable Scene
Bit of a spoiler, this, but the film’s most memorable imagery comes at the end: after V successfully blows up the Houses of Parliament, there is a massive crowd of onlookers, all wearing V’s Guy Fawkes mask. Then they take the masks of, revealing hundreds of ordinary people — including deceased characters. It’s allegorical, see.

Technical Wizardry
The fight between V and a group of government agents in Victoria Station was shot at 60fps to play in slow motion, but the effect was emphasised further by having the stuntmen playing the agents actually move in slow motion, while stuntman David Leitch (later co-director of John Wick, fact fans) as V moved in real time, making it seem as if he was moving much faster than them.

Truly Special Effect
The scene where V is ‘born’ from fire isn’t CGI: stuntman Chad Stahelski (later co-director of John Wick, fact fans) actually walked through fire wearing nothing but fire-resistant gel and a g-string. His body temperature had to be lowered before the scene was shot. Fortunately, it was -3°C on the night of the shoot; then, 15 minutes before a take, Stahelski put on ice-cold flame-resistant clothing; when he took that off, he was covered with the fire-resistant gel, which had been on ice all day. Each to their own, eh?

Making of
James Purefoy was originally cast as V, but pulled out four weeks into filming and was replaced by Hugo Weaving. Because V wears his mask at all times, his dialogue is dubbed throughout (they tried attaching mics to the mask, but they didn’t work well), so the footage starring Purefoy was retained and Weaving’s voice was placed over it. Director James McTeigue later commented, “Can I tell the difference? Yeah. Can the audience tell? I doubt it.”

Awards
1 Saturn Award (Actress (Natalie Portman))
3 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Writing, Costume)
Nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

What the Critics Said
“Just when we were ready to give up mainstream movies as braindead, along comes the controversial and gleefully subversive V for Vendetta, a piece of corporate-sponsored art that will have audiences rooting for a bomb-throwing anarchist. […] Much to the film ‘s credit, and to the exasperation of its critics, the audience is left to decide for itself whether V is a terrorist, freedom fighter, vengeance-seeking psychotic, or maybe all three simultaneously – and whether his extreme actions are a justifiable response to government repression. This pretty heady stuff for a big-budget comic-book movie” — Lou Lumenick, New York Post

Score: 73%

What the Public Say
“Halfway through it occurred to me that ten years had passed since the film’s release. TEN YEARS. And yet the film’s overriding themes: the dangers of fascism, how fear can affect our actions, privacy versus the oft used term ‘national security,’ freedom of speech, intolerance of members of the LGBT community, and the manipulation and dissemination of information, are still very relevant today. Maybe even moreso. What separates good movies from great movies, often comes down to social relevance throughout the decades. Can it stand the test of time? Does it mean something similar in today’s society as it did when the film was first released? This is why films like Metropolis and Citizen Kane and In the Heat of the Night are still studied in film classes. Their themes are universal, something that can apply to most decades. V for Vendetta fits that category to a T.” — Darth Gandalf, Funk’s House of Geekery

Verdict

Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s dystopic graphic novel was a reflection of the 1980s England in which it was originally published; then the film adaptation became a reflection of the mid-’00s world in which it was produced; and then it began to influence that world, with V’s Guy Fawkes mask becoming widely recognised as a symbol for certain protest groups. Although dressed up as part of an entertaining action movie, the story’s real topic is the rights and wrongs of government, and our attitudes and responsibilities towards it as citizens. That message feels as relevant as ever after the events of this year. Perhaps it always will — like George Orwell’s 1984, an enduring warning against things going too far. Let’s pray it’s heeded.

#97 will be… an animation investigation.

The Raven (2012)

2013 #30
James McTeigue | 106 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA, Hungary & Spain / English | 15 / R

The RavenJohn Cusack stars as literary giant (figuratively) Edgar Allan Poe in this wannabe-Victorian-Se7en from the director of V for Vendetta.

Set in the days leading up to Poe’s death (a period in the author’s life which is apparently shrouded in mystery), the film sees a serial killer recreating horrendous scenes from Poe’s tales, leading the police to rope in the author in the hope he can help solve the case. A game develops between the killer and the writer, as they race against time to stop more deaths and all that palaver.

Dark and gruesome with the killer having a clear line to follow in his murders? Wannabe Se7en, see. Unfortunately, it doesn’t follow up on that notion too well. Screenwriters Hannah Shakespeare (helluva name to live up to) and Ben Livingston don’t seem to know what to do with Poe’s tales, so there’s no rhyme nor reason to the killings — they’re plucked at random, possibly from the killer’s most favouritest stories, possibly just the ones someone thought would be the most cinematic. And whereas Se7en’s gore is shocking because it’s used sparingly, is kind of plausible, and is set very much in the real world, here we get a kind of gothic horror feel, complete with copious CGI blood at points.

That said, I got the feeling that The Raven is sort of an R by default. (Note that it received a 15 over here, which is also the stomping ground of harder-edged PG-13s.) There’s gore and the odd swear word, but none of it is lingered on. Most of the obvious blood ‘n’ guts is constrained to one scene, and I believe I counted the PG-13’s requisite single use of the F-word. Holmes and Watson...That they didn’t tone it all down just a smidge to match, and so go for the box office-friendly PG-13, is a surprise in these days.

Setting aside comparisons to Fincher’s masterpiece, I’ve read that one critic described The Raven as “Saw meets Sherlock Holmes”. Obviously I maintain that my allusion is better, but I can see where they’re coming from. However, apart from one murder inspired by The Pit and the Pendulum and someone being (temporarily) buried alive, it’s not that Saw-like; and it lacks the humour or action of Ritchie’s Holmes, or the deductive reasoning of any version. But, y’know, aside from that… Additionally, the climax is somewhat reminiscent of A Study in Pink. Might be coincidence, but on the other hand that episode did go out nearly two years before this was released…

I don’t know how historically accurate this tale is, but I imagine not very — I expect we’d know if Poe had been involved in a headline-making murder investigation that led to his death. But that’s fine — it’s the embodiment of the notion that a fiction film is an entertainment, not a history lesson. As for the author’s characterisation, I don’t know much about Poe, but can’t imagine Cusack is an accurate interpretation. He’s solid as this interpretation, though: a charming, roguish figure, living hand-to-mouth through his fondness for alcohol and dramatic wooing of a woman whose father hates him.

A right pair of BritsThe rest of the cast are from Hollywood’s usual go-to for period tales: Brits; if not entirely then mostly so. (The film was shot in Hungary and Serbia, so I suppose our thesps have the additional advantage of being geographically favourable to Americans.) You know you’re getting a level of quality there, then, though for me Kevin R. McNally lets the side down (again). He’s only a supporting character and is fine most of the time, but there’s one bit when he’s talking to the lead detective and just rattles off his line… It’s not the world’s greatest speech, but you can hear there was meant to be more nuance and quiet in there.

That could be the fault of the director, of course. A first assistant director for the Wachowskis in the days of The Matrix trilogy, James McTeigue graduated to feature directing with the adaptation of V for Vendetta, which I think is a very good film. He followed it with Ninja Assassin, which by all accounts is dreadful (I have, by one way or another, wound up with the BD, so someday I’ll find out). I think The Raven suggests his first film may have been fluke, or was at least aided by his mentors (who were also writers and producers on V). The actual direction-y directing here is mostly fine, although on the whole the film is too dark; sometimes literally too dark to see what’s going on, and that’s not aided by occasionally clunky editing.

I’ve not even mentioned the inappropriately modern title sequence (doubly bad as it comes after a rather sombre ending), or that the neat use of a raven in the film’s logo on the poster remains the entire project’s strongest aspect.

Bad review?Se7en is probably my favourite film ever made, but criticisms that it’s quite a standard detective mystery are not invalid. It’s enlivened by Andrew Kevin Walker’s writing (great dialogue, engrossing structure, etc), some top-drawer performances (Freeman, Pitt, a loopy-calm Spacey), and, probably most of all, David Fincher’s inestimable touch. In making such a comparison it’s easy to see that The Raven lacks any of these, which renders it a solid period mystery, but no more.

3 out of 5

The Raven is on Sky Movies Premiere at various times this week.