March 20, 2006
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VAGUE U HT L I
A political vendetta
By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
Who is codename V, the anarchist superhero
of the Wachowski broth-_
ers-produced adaptation "V
for Vendetta"? Is he a vile, V for
vigilante villain, or a via- Vendetta
ble, victorious vindicator? At the Showcase
Through massive explosions, and Quality 16
poetic rhetoric and gripping Warner Bros.
- though ultimately inane
- martyrdom, he is a little
of both. But most audiences will find the film so
overstuffed with political versings that they will
verily venture that he's little more than a vain
incarnation of a verboten vision.
OK, enough of that. "Vendetta" centers
around a young woman, Evey, who, while brave
and bright, is most interesting because she is
played by the vibrant Natalie Portman ("Clos-
er"). She's the good little citizen of her totalitar-
ian society, or so we think.
When the vandal known only as "V" begins
a plot to overthrow the government through a
series of violent actions, Evey becomes a vital
part of the crusade. Through her painful, cap-
tivating and even touching journey, she learns
that defeating your friendly neighborhood Big
Brother is harder than you might think, and the
same variables that drive governments to mad-
ness live within us all.
"Vendetta" should certainly be applauded
for its bold and "uncompromising vision of the
future," as the tagline reads, but the core mes-
sage comes across rather distorted.
What's handled best is the meaning of the
word "terrorist" in contrast to "freedom fight-
er." We hear "terrorist" thrown around so often
today that we forget many of our country's
"good guy" founding fathers were terrorists in
Britain's eyes. Some Brits even still consider
Guy Fawkes (upon whose anarchist exploits V
Getting into Rick's just got a whole lot harder.
fashions his mask) as a terrorist, though he'd
be a freedom fighter to others. This distinction
cannot be overstated in our increasingly com-
plex, political world.
Yet just about the rest of "Vendetta's" moral-
ity is tangled and puzzling. We know the film
is vehemently anti-authoritarian, and we get a
strong feeling it doesn't support what the West
is doing on the battlefield (Iraq is explicitly
mentioned) and to its own societal freedoms.
But if the authoritarian government of a fiction-
al England is wrong to deplore the "godless ...
former United States," whose vision is the righ-
teous one? Curtailing freedoms clearly isn't the
way to go, but if not doing so caused the greatest
nation in the world to collapse, then does the
film suggest we do the same?
As for the performances, Portman shines like
she always does. Given her knack for making
even the most pathetic dialogue sound almost
reasonable (consider the "Star Wars" prequels),
she balances out the never-ending political ver-
biage rather breezily.
Hugo Weaving ("The Matrix") is the man
behind the maniacal mask of V, and he delivers
a passionate, almost convincing performance as
a tortured social patriot. The film's resident bad
guys are undoubtedly malicious, but for all their
corruption and evildoing, it's hard to believe
they could have committed a greater atrocity
than shave the celestial curls that once dwelled.
atop Ms. Portman's head.
"Vendetta" is a bold move for most involved,
Portman most of all. Born in Israel, she has been
something of an activist for peace in the Middle
East all her life and understands the true terror
of terrorism better than most.
With this film, which considers the idea that
all terrorists are heroes to someone else, she
risks coming under fire in her own community,
much like Steven Spielberg did for "Munich."
As unfortunate as it is, the fact that nothing
- not even terrorism - is a black-and-white
issue is something too many people are unwill-
ing to accept.
If the film had a clearer, refined and more
coherent focus, "Vendetta" might have made
a social statement comparable to last fall's
revered "Good Night, and Good Luck." Both
films scream out about the dangers of the direc-
tion our society has recently taken, but "Ven-
detta" does so in a simplistic and ultimately
And this factor will most likely bring undue
scrutiny to the loyalties and intentions of its
stars. A government where you can't even con-
sider some ideas for fear of being considered
disloyal? Now that does sound familiar.
(( want everyone to remember
why they need us!" screams
the High Chancellor's projected
visage, a stark Big Brother addressing his
soulless co-conspirators in a shadowy
government conference room.
Government reminders come in all
forms in the new film "V for Vendetta,"
from the fabrication of national disas-
ters to the censorship and control of the
media - all in the name of protecting
the powerful. Luckily for the residents of
the dystopian fantasy, one
man stands against the tide
of totalitarian terror.
But this is a movie, and
anyone can guess the rest.
Morally conflicted yet sin-
gle-mindedly righteous, and
coming off a stint in some-
thing decidedly resemblingx
a Holocaust medical experi-
mentation camp, the film's
hero V has no memory of AMA
who he once was. His only AND
apparent goal is to finish
the work Guy Fawkes started in 1605 by
attempting to blow up Parliament.
Like Fawkes, V is a terrorist. It's a term
the Chancellor's administration doesn't
mind throwing around, but an odd one for
filmmakers to choose as a label for their
titular hero - particularly when that hero
chooses London's Underground as the
delivery service for his Parliament-bound
In light of the bombings of London's
public transportation system this summer
and the terrorist attacks of Sept.IIthat
left this nation stunned in fear and rage,
and particularly in light of U.S. politics
that have changed since then, giving your
hero the marker of "terrorist" is a tremen-
dously bold step.
Such a hero, fighting against such a
regime, has been understandably scruti-
nized and dissected. In concept, they say,
"V for Vendetta" is undeniably political.
But while any movie centered on a
character like V is politically bold, the
assertion that "Vendetta" itself is neces-
sarily and inherently a piece of political
art is not as easily defended. There's a
government cloaked in lies and shadows,
exploiting and tyrannizing its people
through a campaign of perpetual fear.
There's a vigilante terrorist challenging a
conventional concept of just action.
But so they had those in "Star
In the past year, America has become
a wellspring of political art, from George
Clooney's stylishly subversive "Good
Night, and Good Luck" to Stephen
Gaghan's incendiary "Syriana" to Ste-
ven Spielberg's explosively powerful
"Munich." To call these films political in
nature gets at the very heart of their exis-
tence. Politics is the point.
But now take "Vendetta,"
a middling action film, its
best assets good-enough
special effects and Natalie
Portman. Based on a graphic
novel by Alan Moore ("From
Hell"), the film's most salient
descriptors are probably "fun"
and "noisy" The happen-
stance of using a totalitarian
government as the villain
4DA - OK, one that spews unset-
tling rhetoric, harnesses the
ADE public fear of national crisis
and craves power above public good,
sure - is ultimately a narrative device.
If oppressive regimes, a sci-fi fanboy's
favorite nemesis, must by their very exis-
tence be allegorical to present-day gov-
ernments, we may have to reconsider the
political significance of, say, "Aeon Flux."
"Vendetta," which wears the well worn
trope of political oppression, is not nec-
essarily a political film. But then again,
neither is it apolitical.
Political impact can't be measured
by intent or novelty (lucky, because
"Vendetta" has neither on its side), but by
effect. Indeed, it was not the politically
vocal "Good Night, and Good Luck" that
became the flashpoint in film this year,
but a quiet love story about two cowboys
in Montana that resonated. Whether it's
a 52-year-old lifelong conservative who
finds himself empathizing with thwarted
gay love, or a 13-year-old kid discovering
a message of civil disobedience in a Guy
Fawkes mask and silly, alliterative ver-
bosity, in the moment when art connects
with intellect - that's political.
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By Imran Syd
Daily Arts Writer
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Though she played perhaps the great-
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Louis-Dreyfuss gets no free passes
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Because the character she plays has
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notion of Elaine Benes as a mother trying
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