V for Vendetta

starring Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman and Stephen Rea

directed by James McTeigue

adapted by Andy and Larry Wachowski from the comic by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

review by Stephen Notley

Forged by comics geniuses Alan Moore and David Lloyd in the early 80s against Thatcherite England, adapted in the mid-90s by the Matrix-making Wachowski Brothers, produced and shot three years after the World Trade Center attacks and then held to let the smoke clear from last year's London train bombings, V for Vendetta arrives to us in 2006 by a storied path.

It was always unpossible to make a V for Vendetta movie. The hero, after all, is a terrorist. Powerful, charming, persuasive, V would be too much in the Clinton era, and in Bushtime? Forget it. But if anybody had the balls to do it without ripping out the central idea that V is a terrorist, it would be the Wachowskis. So that's what we got: a Wachowski Vendetta.

So, it's stylish. Stripped down. The Wachowskis give us a cleaner and more comfortable fascism than Moore and Lloyd, less desperate, more melded to our time. Things are modern, there's rumblings on TV of the collapsing Americas, Evey is a coffee girl at a TV station rather than a would-be hooker.

Against this background, V's anarchistic crusade feels very much like madness. Hugo Weaving is ingenious as V, communicating his irrevocable conviction but adding a strangeness, an oddball menace. And of course he does it all without a face, just the smiling devilish mask, leading us to rebellion. He kills and dances, holds and murders. He leads Evey to a moment of truth, but is he, or it, to be trusted? The movie's worth it just for his V.

The most effective sequences, unsurprisingly, are the ones that most closely match the words and images from the comic. The Wachowskis fumble the ball a bit when they get away from those core sequences, but there are some curious discoveries and popcorn fun and glorious trademark Wachowski unsubtleties in there as well. The movie certainly is a grab bag of images of government detainment and abuse, truncheon beatings and the ol' hood-n-yank. No question, it's a seditious movie, clumsily at times, movingly at others. The Wachowskis aren't shy about it; the message is Don't Trust Your Government; They Will Put a Hood Over Your Head and Drag You Out of the House. Is that a message that's gonna resonate with the movie-going public? It certainly would be neat if it did.