Based upon the graphic novels written in the '80's by Alan Moore (who has since disassociated himself from the picture, as he has with adaptations of his "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "From Hell") and written for the screen by the Wachowski Brothers ("The Matrix"), "V For Vendetta" opens in 2020, where America has fallen and England has become the leader of the world, ruled by a dictator named Adam Sutler (John Hurt), who runs the country by using fear and propaganda and, taking away the freedom of the country's citizens. Anyone who opposes the regime is locked away. The government listens in on conversations on a daily basis.
Early in the picture, low-level TV employee Evey (Natalie Portman) is on her way home when she runs into a couple of Sutler's thugs. She's saved when V (voiced by Hugo Weaving, best known as "Agent Smith" in the "Matrix" movies), whose face is covered by a Guy Fawkes mask, steps out of the night to drop her attackers. He then has her join him to watch his planned destruction of the Old Bailey, set to the "1812 Overture".
Afterwards, V breaks into the TV station where Evey works and takes over the airwaves, inviting the citizens to watch as he'll blow up the Parliment a year from the day, which will break the hold the government ("People shouldn't be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people," he says) has over the people and restore their rights. As the film progresses, Evey gets caught up in V's plan and we find out about the tragic pasts of both V and Evey. Meanwhile, a police detective (Stephen Rea) tries to track down V and ends up learning more about the regime in the process.
"Vendetta" was marketed more as an action/thriller, but the picture is certainly more of a drama, with a lot of exposition. Those who are expecting an action movie (as the trailers seemed to indicate) would best be willing to be open to more of a drama, as that's really what this picture is. There are a few well-choreographed fight scenes scattered throughout the picture, but they're fairly brief.
For a movie about rebelling against an oppressive government, there are times here-and-there when the picture feels curiously too low-key, despite fine performances. It's never boring, but the film (some points of which seem rushed; while I've never read Moore's work - although watching the movie made me curious to see the differences - it felt as if some elements of it were lost in translation) has a stop/start momentum, when it should be relentless. While some aspects of the story seem a bit muddled, it still does deliver messages of not tuning out to what's happening in the world, to be able to question and to formulate your own opinion instead of just taking in what you're being told.
McTeague's film does have aspects going for it, including a pair of fine performances from Portman and Weaving, the latter using his voice expertly, since he's never seen. Portman offers one of her better (although her English accent could have been better) recent efforts as a young woman who gradually finds herself drawn into V's battle against the oppressive, totalitarian government.
Technically, "V" appeared respectable for a $50m picture, but I didn't feel as if it fully created the kind of grim, oppressive mood and atmosphere that the movie truly needed or that other similar pictures have been able to accomplish in recent years. McTeague makes a rather average directorial debut here and one wonders if a more experienced director could have plunged the audience further into the film's world. Overall, this is a moderately involving drama, although the material could have been reworked to give it more focus and more flow.
VIDEO: "V For Vendetta" is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/VC-1) by Warner Brothers. The Blu-Ray presentation delivers a high-quality viewing experience, as the film certainly has a pop to it that wasn't present in the DVD transfer. Sharpness and detail are not consistently outstanding, but certainly are impressive more often than not, as fine details on faces, costumes, sets and other elements were presented with a clarity that delights. Depth to the image is generally quite fine. While the presentation doesn't quite reach the "3-D" heights of some of the finest Blu-Ray presentations, it's certainly an enjoyably sleek, glossy-looking effort. Some minor noise was spotted in a few scenes, but the film otherwise remained clean and clear. Colors remained subdued in some scenes and appeared bolder in others, but in either case, colors appeared accurately presented.
SOUND: The film is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. While this is not an action-heavy picture by any means, the film's sound design certainly is quite aggressive during much of the picture, with the surrounds offering a great deal of ambience, reinforcement of the music and plenty of discrete sound effects. When the action does come into play, the audio offers a pretty substantial punch, as the film's sound effects certainly have a lot of power behind them. Dialogue remained clear and undistorted throughout.
EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray carries over the DVD extras and adds one more in a video commentary ("Director's Notebook") featuring comments from director James McTiegue, Portman, Weaving and others.) From the DVD we get: a 15-minute "making of" and a trio of featurettes - one about the history of Guy Fawkes, another about the production design and one on the comic. Also found on the second disc are a Cat Power "montage" and the trailer. There's also Natalie Portman's "rap" from "Saturday Night Live", as well. I'm surprised that there isn't a tribute featurette cinematographer Adrian Biddle, who passed away after filming was completed (and who the film is dedicated to.)
Final Thoughts: "V For Vendetta" remains a moderately involving drama, although the material could have been reworked to give it more focus. The Blu-Ray presentation offers upgraded audio/video, as well as an additional bonus feature beyond what the DVD brought to the table. A recommended rental.
The Film B-