On Nov. 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes tried unsuccessfully to blow up the British Houses of Parliament in what's known to history as the Gunpowder Plot. Fawkes and his co-conspirators were caught and brutally executed; Fawkes was hanged, drawn and quartered, and for the past 400 years, the Brits have celebrated every Nov. 5, which has become known as Guy Fawkes' Day. Also called Bonfire Night, the Brits a forgiving lot burn Fawkes in effigy and set off fireworks in celebration.
The Gunpowder Plot figures prominently in V for Vendetta, which was originally slated for release on Nov. 5, 2005.
Then the London subway bombings happened, and the studios decided to delay the release, out of respect for the victims.
Though it's true that exploding London landmarks are featured in Vendetta, at the time it was easier to believe the movie was shelved because it sucked. Furthermore, Alan Moore, author of the graphic novel on which the film was based, disassociated himself from the film, signing all profits over to illustrator David Lloyd, because Moore wasn't happy with the script.
Fortunately, Vendetta isn't the stink bomb many fans of the graphic novel expect. Andy and Larry Wachowski, the screenwriters responsible for the flashy Matrix series, have managed to do justice to the subtle and intricate sensibilities of Moore's 1982 work. A timeless story about rebellion in the face of totalitarian government, it's just as relevant today as it was when Moore penned it during Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Britain's prime minister.
The setting is a futuristic Britain where a fascistic party has dominated the government, creating a totalitarian society in the aftermath of years of war and unrest. Almost everything is illegal: homosexuality, religions that aren't Christianity, questioning the government ... gee, does this sound familiar?
Into this sick and sore society explodes, literally, V (Hugo Weaving), a terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask whose aim is to overthrow the government. A young woman named Evey (Natalie Portman) becomes embroiled in V's plots after a chance meeting in a dark alley. Caught on tape with the government's No. 1 enemy, Portman is forced to leave her tenuous existence behind and embark on a journey both spiritual and physical into the nature of self, and opposition to the world outside.
The first thing the Wachowskis and director James McTeigue did right was to cast almost every good British actor working today. It's a treat to see Stephen Rea, one of today's most underrated actors, in a role worthy of his considerable talents. As the inspector investigating V, Rea is by turns wry, understanding, witty and dangerous. John Hurt as Britain's chancellor and Stephen Fry as a secret sexual rebel are terrifying and moving, respectively. Weaving, as the masked V, turns in a performance a hell of a lot more convincing than most actors can do using their actual faces.
There are whole pieces of subplot missing from the film, but that's to be expected; a faithful adaptation of a work this complex would make a long and tedious movie.
Even so, the plot is perhaps too complicated for mainstream audiences, as it follows V's rebellion, Portman's odyssey and Rea's investigation, weaving the three stories together as seamlessly as a waltz, complete with percussive explosions. Fans of Moore, the Wachowski brothers, smart movies or slick action scenes should find a lot worth watching.
Nancy Kaffer writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].