V for Vendetta ★★★

“People shouldn't be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

I had a very strange experience watch V for Vendetta. Despite being an adaptation of a book I have never actually read, I spent the larger part of the wrong time just feeling like something was wrong. There is a lot to be said about Alan Moore and his variety of colourful opinions but on this particular occasion I think I found myself agreeing with him; some things just should not be adapted. 

Something about this film just does not really work for me. Initially I thought it was just the dialogue, which was clearly designed never to actually be spoken. Like Watchmen, Moore’s words for V for Vendetta read as purple prose and just feel unnatural and even silly when spoken aloud by actors. The cast are certainly not the problem*, Hugo Weaving could never give a bad performance if he tried, but these are just not conversations that are meant to be had. They work fine on the page but not on the screen and I cannot say for sure why. This is made even more awkward and hating whenever we are privy to new scenes from the Wachowski’s which are written fine but clearly of a totally different style and flavour to what Moore was doing. 

So why does the Watchmen film really work for me then if this doesn’t? I think a lot of it could come down to style. James McTeigue, a clear friend of the Wachowski’s, is by no means an incompetent director but he brings very little style and finesse to the proceedings. A lot of the shot composition is incredibly flat and bland which makes it nigh impossible to distinguish what one is looking at from any number of other contemporary action thrillers. The final climax sees some cool stylistic flourishes but, frankly, I think it is too little too late. Compare that to something like Snyder’s work on Watchmen and I think the flaws become much more apparent. A director like Snyder is grandiose, melodramatic and exaggerated which means that the dialogue can work in a natural way with the world we are seeing. This film does not have such an advantage. 

As I said, I have not read the source material but just looking at what we have, this film feels very shallow and surface level compared to what it could have been. The set-up got me excited for an exploration and discourse about anarchy, fascism and political fanaticism but I never felt like the piece ever really delved into those ideas in as compelling a way as it ought to. What I feel like we got was a much less interesting, contemporary commentary on, broadly, conservatism instead of an alternate look at a terrifying, apathetic regime. 

I am not sure how to feel about V for Vendetta. I definitely want to watch it again sometime and, especially, check out the book and see what it really has to say without being clearly cut down and recontextualised. I like this film but my recommendation is lukewarm at best. 

*Natalie Portman is awful in this. I’m sorry to say but she is.