Fri, Mar 17, 2006 - Page 16 News List

The phantom of vendetta

Lots of daring ideas succumb to narrative anarchy in the third act, but this is still fantasy action cinema that stimulates, rather than dulls, the mind

By Bob Strauss  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

A lot of different people are going to have problems with V for Vendetta. Alan Moore, the graphic novel genius who wrote the glorified comic books that the film is based on, already does. He refuses to have his name associated with the movie; but then, he's like that about most adaptations of his works.

Fans of Natalie Portman, who will probably be arguing about the consistency of her English accent for years to come (I think it's pretty good), will likely be more upset by the sight of their pixie goddess getting all her hair shaved off -- for real.

Then there are the folks who just ain't going to cotton to a terrorist hero, bent on vengeance as much as he is on liberation, who moves large amounts of explosives through, of all places, London's recently suicide-bombed subway tunnels.

I can't really argue with them. But I will say that if the idea of such things in a big, relatively thoughtful, action-fantasy spectacular don't automatically make your blood boil, V has got a lot of subver-sive brilliance for this kind of thing.

I'm not sure its politics would make sense even if they could be divorced from the current war on terror (Moore and illustrator David Lloyd's first V strips were published in 1981). Yet its angry assault on those who would abuse power, exploit fear and spread oppression in the guise of protection and morality is eminently cheerable. Especially to anyone who sees evidence of religio-fascism taking over, well, everything these days.

I wish that I could cheer V for Vendetta wholeheartedly.

Chaos seems to be the only alternative to tyranny it can think of -- which, for a comic-book movie, is fine. But disarray also takes over the film's script in the final act, and that's not all right.

Film Notes:

V FOR VENDETTA

Directed by: James McTeigue

Starring: Natalie Portman (Evey), Hugo Weaving, (V/William Rookwood), Stephen Rea (Finch) Stephen Fry (Deitrich), John Hurt (Adam Sutler), Tim Pigott-Smith (Creedy), Rupert Graves (Dominic)

Running time: 132 minutes

Taiwan Release: Today


Involvingly complex for its first two thirds, the movie has you scratching your head well before the end.

Two good acts out of three, at least, is a better average than the Matrix trilogy managed. Larry and Andy Wachowski scripted both properties and produced V, though the brothers left this one's directing to their former assistant director, James McTeigue.

He's good with performers, visual pizazz and stylized violence, a little awkward on pacing. Keeping a story straight? Well, I don't think McTeigue's the one to blame.

Enthralling moments and radical ideas do abound, though. In the wake of apparent biological attacks, the dicta-torial Chancellor Sutler takes over Old Blighty. Part Hitler, part Pat Robertson and usually seen on video monitors a la Big Brother (in amusing casting, he's played by John Hurt, who was Winston Smith in the last 1984 movie), Sutler has basically outlawed art and free thought, persecuted every group of people Nazis usually don't like, and taken over all media with the help of a lot of guys who probably started in talk radio.

But the frightened and bullied public has a champion in V (Hugo Weaving), who runs around blowing up landmarks, assassinating Sutler's cohorts and in the vast underground lair he calls the Shadow Gallery, saving Western culture's best stuff. Oh, and like that other subterr-anean aesthete/killer the Phantom of the Opera, the disfigured V always wears cape and mask. The latter fully covers his face and bears the likeness of Guy Fawkes, the Catholic rebel who tried to dynamite the Houses of Parliament back in 1605.

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