Combine the dystopian elements from futuristic works such as 1984, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 and throw in a masked vigilante in the guise of a seemingly misunderstood 16th century anarchist and what do you get? Not a movie, but a graphic novel in several parts. Now take this icon in the fringes of British pop culture and place it in the hands of a pair of brilliant recluses cum filmmakers and then what do you get? A sci-fi fantasy that is as relevant in the current day as a multi-purpose remote is to the new age wired household.
The writing credits for this movie which seems to be a loose adaptation of a 80s comic series is shared by the Wachowski brothers. Though Larry and Andy are said to have started working on this screenplay even before the Matrix trilogy, it seems to have been a work in progress, constantly updated as times went by. So while the plot line shares several key elements with the graphic novel and ergo the various pieces of futuristic literature referenced therein, other plot elements are suitably tweaked in such a manner one comes out feeling like one has just watched a newsreel.
This line of thought that governments know more than they are willing to divulge is not new. It has been propagated with great effect by personalities such as Michael Moore. But the Wachowskis screenplay is far subtler. However, what I loved most about this movie was the fact that it has not been "dumbed down" to suit the lowest common denominator.
Just like the Matrix trilogy, much of the movie is about the deep lines vocalized with great relish by the lead characters, especially Hugo Weaving. Poet laureates, bards and venerated novelists are quoted at will. Word list virtuosos would particularly enjoy the vivacious verbosity that accompanies the sudden appearance of the vigilante. But on the other hand, the subsequent verbalization of verbiage that is uncharacteristic of any vernacular could vex you into vacating that seat.
Hugo Weaving could have easily been substituted with a blue screen, his character staying masked through out, for reasons that become apparent as the movie progresses. But his fluid movements behind that masked demeanor, oozing confidence and moving with panache in the action sequences which remind one of a certain Agent Smith, could never have been done by anyone else. Just when one expected that Keanu Reeves would be the Wachowskis muse forever, Weaving pokes holes in this theory, playing the perfect "uppity" vigilante, wry humor sparkling throughout. Knives glint as they trace ellipsoidal paths in mid air, V's skills with a peice of metal more reminiscent of Zarate than Zorro.
As for the female lead, she is a babe. Natalie Portman seems to go through great pain, submitting herself to having her head shorn on camera, another chapter in the unfortunate series of atrocious hair-dos that started with Padme's Amidala's cheese danish. She is perhaps the Jodie Foster of our times, on her way from being a child actor towards the status of leading lady specializing in off beat roles - all this while in the process of getting a Harvard degree. And did I mention that she is a babe?
A list of talented, but largely unknown British actors completes the cast. Watch out for John Hurt who fits the part of High Chancellor and if you are old enough (or a trivia junkie), his portrayal would easily bring back memories of the Big Brother Apple ad from Super Bowl XVIII in 1984. But lest you make a mistake, the reference here is not to the ad, but to George Orwell’s book that spawned the ad.
Just like the Matrix, this movie is bound to spawn discussion at the water cooler. Maybe that is was the intention. While the Wachowskis were constrained by a need to stay true to the original comic book, they have penned a hard hitting critique on the current political and social climate in the US and UK. The movie does seem to incorporate a lot of deep metaphorical references (or maybe that is just me thinking). Some holes are apparent too. Ebert’s comment on the impossibility of V’s peripheral vision under that mask is probably the most trivial and fittingly, when careful attention is paid thorough out the movie, a suitable explanation can be derived.
While some reviewers have tended to characterize the idea behind such movies as leftist and symptomatic of bloggers in general, I don't agree. To me, this movie mirrors currently prevailing political and social climate. The various references to the totalitarian regime and ideology of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party along with the idea of an all-seeing and all-hearing Big Brother are probably a characteristic of the comic book as well, but the references such as the one to a bible-quoting, finger-waving, pill-chomping conservative talk show host, a take off on a number of current day TV and radio personalities including a certain former co-host of ESPN's Sunday NFL countdown are very current.
Lines such as Fear has became the ultimate tool of this government and the reference to home made explosives devices crafted out of common fertilizers may be recent and very relevant in the post 9/11 world. But even with the first week’s reign at the top of the charts, it might not just be long term box office material, especially in a society as hypocritical as in the current day USA.
(This review has been cross posted on Desicritics.org. Do visit me there too....)