Based on Alan Moore's anti-Thatcherite comic-book of the 80's, this beautifully scripted film is a sort of '1984 for the modern world'. After the garbage that constituted the second and third Matrix movies, it's good to see The Wachowski Brothers back on track, even if original comic book author Alan Moore has insisted his name be removed from the credits (as he always does when a film of one of his creations is made).
This is a comic-book movie as rarely seen before - one with a message to tell, and a lot of dialogue to get across. The marketing men may have emphasised the violence and the story of a masked anti-hero to get the required demographic of teenage boys to part with their money at the box office, but make no mistake - this is a film that's intended as a feast for the mind, not just the eyes.
Not that there isn't something pretty to look at on screen. Natalie Portman is very easy on the eye, and in many ways this is a story told through her eyes. She's not a great actress, but she's good enough for the story that is being told here. Hugo Weaving, as the protagonist 'V', has a more difficult job of things, having to rely entirely on his spoken voice to get his feelings across. He delivers a strong performance, albeit one that is hindered considerably by his having to give it from behind a mask that has no moving mouth or visible eyes. Somehow the film feels far too static in the first scenes where so much is being said, but so little is physically happening on screen, and whilst it's hard to see how this could have been fixed without upsetting all the fan boys of the original graphic novel, it just doesn't feel natural.
Fortunately, director James McTeigue makes up for things visually elsewhere. This is a film with some nice visual ticks, lush cinematography, stunning 'action' scenes (especially a 'money shot' right at the end of the film), and a quality look and feel to it that has been transferred beautifully to DVD. None of this would matter, if there wasn't a half-decent plot, but the story is consistent, well told and keeps you thoroughly engaged throughout.
One of the highlights for us Brits is getting the chance to see some British talent in a big budget movie (big compared to the usual British TV budget at any rate). Stephen Rea, who makes another rare appearance as lead in next week's other big DVD release (The Crying Game Special Edition), delivers a solid performance, as does John Hurt, but it's the minor roles which feature such television stalwarts as Tim Piggot-Smith and Stephen Fry that make this film feel really British. That, and the locations. In many ways it's a shame the film has a '15' rating, or it would make the ideal souvenir of London for my friends from the States who are over here on vacation at the moment.
Sadly, the marketing folk have really screwed up this DVD release. The single disk DVD that is on general release features just a 15 minute 'Making of' featurette. There is a separate release that has a whole disk of other extra's, but it's only available through HMV. I resent being told by film companies where I should go to shop, and the silly practice of offering 'exclusive' covers through stores like HMV and Amazon has now been taken to an extreme that I find irritating to the extreme. That being said, the extra's on the HMV release apparently clock in at less than an hour and seem to mainly be documentaries about the original Guy Fawkes event rather than the movie itself, so non-HMV shoppers probably aren't missing out on much.
This is an excellent film, and one that surpassed my quite high expectations, but for now, I'd say this is a rental not a purchase - at least until we get the proper 'Special Edition' with the extra's we deserve, in a year or so's time!