I hadn't heard of this story until two weeks ago outside of movie trailers; then, a friend lent me the graphic novel, and I've been intrigued by it ever since. Alan Moore's novel has been hailed as "genius", and while I don't necessarily go that far, it is an impressive achievement. The movie is also hailed as being "impressive" and "thought-provoking". Apparently, my standards for "thought-provoking" are too high...because while I enjoyed the film, it did not live up to my expectations.
The script does diverge in significant ways from its source material. Evey's backstory has been reworked in the film, becoming unnecessarily detailed, and the Wachowski brothers dispense with both Rose Almond and the machiavellian Mrs. Heyer. While I don't miss Mrs. Heyer, as her sections are some of the least well done in the novel, Rose's lack forces the Wachowski brothers to pin the dirty work on Mr. Creedy in a way that practically reeks of deus ex machina. Gordon Dietrich goes from being a petty criminal and Evey's lover to a closeted homosexual who martyrs himself for laughs and good ratings. Finally, the brothers force America's War on Terror into the story, substituting Muslims for the Jews persecuted in Alan Moore's novel.
However, while some of these changes are good and some contrived, some alteration of the story had to be done as Moore's book dealt more with fears regarding Thatcher's conservatism rather than terrorism in a post 9/11 world. Interestingly enough, V
's release had to be delayed due to the London subway bombings last year as it would have been inappropriate to show a film that features large portions of London being blown to bits in light of those events. V
is a movie about violence, terrorism, being used to effectuate regime change, and while the discussion of the morality of doing so is central to the graphic novel, I am not persuaded the Wachowski brothers do that question justice during the film. A lot of V's dialogue is rushed, muffled by his mask, and almost drowned out in places by the film's score, so it's a little hard to put together exactly what's going on in his head. Evey's moral dilemma over killing is virtually eliminated because rather than going back to the Shadow Gallery with V after Lilliman's murder, she instead flees to Dietrich. Granted, there's a certain logic to that as she's terrified by V and the prospect of remaining with him for a year, but that decisions costs the Wachowskis a great deal in terms of the meat of the debate between V and Evey.
The dialogue is rocky in places, frequently becoming quite comical in its contrivance. While V has the silliest opening speech I've ever heard, featuring almost all of the "v" words in the dictionary, he seems to be aware of its silliness and playing with Evey. She, however, gets the Lamest Line Ever, when she waxes on about how V is the film's Everyman--immediately after we see what purports to be the entire population of London flood toward the Houses of Parliament wearing V masks. (Dude, Alan, Larry--we got the picture. Please don't pretend to be subtle with your symbolism, you'll hurt yourselves.) Personally, I thought her final speeches were as inappropriate as Depp's ending monologue in The Libertine
--the writing was needlessly heavy-handed, and all of what she says is completely unnecessary.
She also cheats V out of the humanity Weaving's portrayal gives him. In fact, V is human enough to weep when Evey walks out on him. Despite the mask, Weaving is able to convey a wider range of emotion than does Portman, even in light of the intensity she shows during the Larkhill sequence. Unfortunately, even when she confronts V, the drama of that moment is heavily marred by Portman's struggle with her English accent--she fails, miserably. Her performance, so key to the story, is weak in lots of places, perhaps due to some awkward writing, and the moment she kisses V is very nearly lost, which is unfortunate.
Stephen Rea makes a believable Finch and throughout the film gives a very strong performance until the very end. Credit where credit is due, he almost steals the show, as it were, but again, the weakness of the script makes it difficult to realize fully.
All in all, V
is a very pretty movie with some nifty action sequences, and Weaving finally manages to leave Agent Smith behind. (I never expected to hear "You must overthrow the government, Mr. Anderson" as I did with his Elrond.) It's pop philosphy with a comic book feel to it that makes for idle entertainment and constitutes a good first outing for McTeigue, the director. It'll probably even go into the DVD collection on my shelves when it comes to Wal-Mart at $9.00 a copy or so, but it was not the sharp thriller I was hoping it would be.