I was a fan of the "V for Vendetta" graphic novel, and Alan Moore disinheriting the film was a bit discouraging. But he's always been a little crazy. The film version is everything I could have possibly hoped for - gripping, chilling, intense, exciting, heartbreaking. It gets Moore's music if not his exact words; elements are slightly different, subplots removed. But the idea - as V himself would be so proud to say - remains the same.
The plot is surprisingly complex and nuanced, and I don't want to give anything more away than the previews already have. Suffice it to say that a masked anarchist (voiced by Hugo Weaving) must save a young woman (Natalie Portman) during his attempt to expose corruption in the government. Weaving is perfectly cast, using his formidable physicality and imposing voice to give gravitas to the insanity of the character. Portman has gone from child to teen star and is finally emerging as a talented, adult actress following her Oscar-nominated turn in "Closer". Here, she gives her best performance to date as the orphan Evey. John Hurt is characteristically impressive as the enigmatic government leader, and Stephen Rea gives a wonderful supporting turn as the police inspector charged with finding V - before it's too late.
The Wachowski Brothers' former protege, James McTiegue, takes on the directing duties here and helms an enormously impressive first feature, using every trick in the book in a manner reminiscent of his mentors' breakout hit "The Matrix". Unlike "The Matrix", McTiegue allows the story to be more of a focus than the action, and as a result the film is a tense and emotional thriller, with outbursts of spectacularly filmed and choreographed action. Showing more maturity and restraint than the Wachowskis, McTiegue doesn't show off, and his trickery isn't self conscious. When slow-motion overtakes a late action sequence, it seems as natural as breathing. The late cinematographer Adrian Biddle (the film is dedicated to his memory) does an outstanding job, Oscar-nominated Dario Marianelli's score is a fantastic accompaniment to the piece, and the visual effects are astonishing, terrifying, and deeply moving, especially in the climatic moments in Trafalgar Square.
With solid acting, great action, and fantastic technical wizardry, it sounds just like another "Matrix"-style ripoff. But the biggest difference in "V" is that it is a story of real ideas - not a fantastic, science fiction creation, but a genuine examination of the human condition. The power of fear takes center stage here - the fear of war, of disease, of famine. Fear is a basic human nature, and has been exploited as a weapon - a method of control - for centuries. And for those who would use it, a masked man waits in the shadows to carry out your sentence. The verdict? Vengeance. "V for Vendetta" is a must-see.