V for Vendetta is one of those must-read comics that I never got around to reading. I know, I know, how can I respect myself as a well-rounded geek if I don't read everything Alan Moore puts out? I'm trying to catch up, give me a break.
Anyway, my suspicion is that, in spite of Moore's well-known hatred of all things Hollywood, this movie does it justice. To wit, it's the future. The United States is no longer the major superpower, replaced by a despotic Britain that has a tight-fisted grip on its populace. Outside, the world rages with disease (the bird flu), terrorists (including Muslim extremists), and every other ill free society offers. Well, no more.
The people have spoken, out of fear, and they have elected Adam Sutler, played by John Hurt with all the bug-eyed spit of a self-styled dictator. Sutler employs Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith) as the chief of his secret service, who goes about "black bagging" people who are different: homosexuals, protestors, and comedians. They're all fodder for black bagging and they're never seen again.
The minions of Creedy are known as Fingers, and these Fingers have the run of Britain, including its women. So it's no surprise when Evey (Natalie Portman, beautiful even when bald) is accosted by Fingers out for some fun. Fortunately, a man in a mask, hat, wig, and cape known as "V" (with fantastic aplomb by Hugo Weaving) comes to her rescue. Wielding only knives, he easily dispatches her opponents. Then he shows her his "symphony," blowing up a building and a symbol with a shower of fireworks.
Shortly thereafter, V takes rolls out the rest of his plan: he appears on national television to call the citizens to appear on Guy Fawkes Day (November 5). Guy Fawkes is a historical figure that planned to blow up Parliament with gunpowder, but he was captured before he could pull it off. Apparently, V plans the very same thing (sans capture, of course).
In the process, Evey discovers her past as well as her future. Merely being associated with V is too dangerous to allow her to safely exist, and it's not long before she must make a choice: about being afraid, about being loyal, about being herself, and about her love for V.
Skillfully interwoven into this plot is poor Officer Finch (Stephen Rhea) as he struggles to uncover V's background. We learn many things about V, not the least of which that he is an experiment gone awry. In essence, he is a mistake and a success, the vengeful child of a government that created him. V is for Vengeance indeed.
On a visceral level, this film could just have been about the title: revenge. But it's so much more than that. The touch of the Wachowski brothers is everywhere, from the dialogue to the camera shots, beautifully panning, teasing, titillating and mocking with every shot, every sound, and every line. V is an English-major's protagonist, spouting alliterations and quoting Shakespeare. Dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask and voiced with honeyed tones by Weaving, he's instantly likable and frightening, a madcap spirit who heralds the clarion call of change. See, now they've got me doing it!
"V" inspires you like that. Yes, there are obvious jabs at current events. If anything, they're too obvious. The film doesn't need to have watchwords like "avian flu" and "terrorist" interspersed throughout. The message comes across regardless of the setting: the price of freedom is fear. Give it up at your own risk.