Note: There may be some mild spoilers within. Or worse. I don't know, I haven't written it at the time of this warning. If you don't like spoilers, chances are you should read one of the orgasmic reviews hailing V as a masterpiece, and carefully note that the people who wrote those reviews either a) haven't read the book, b) are staunch liberals, or c) both a) and b). Anyways.
This is a Wachowski film.
I know that they got some other schmuck to direct it. But they wrote and produced it, and their paw prints are all over the product. I can't tell if they're geniuses for being able to so utterly manipulate a director (who probably wouldn't need much persuading, being that he was their first assistant director on at least two of the Matrix films), or just cowards.
But I digress. V For Vendetta has quite a bit going for it-- McTiegue is a competent director when he's not bending his style to suit that of the Wachowski brothers, and Hugo Weaving is Hugo Weaving. I don't know how much of V's physical work is Weaving's, and how much is James Purefoy's (who was cast in the role before leaving the project under shady circumstances), but Weaving's voice work just demonstrates the depth of his ability as an actor. Bravo for him, and if the rest of the film had been dreck, he still would have made it worth watching. It should also be noted that films boasting casts as large as V's are susceptible to an inconsistency in performance quality; after all, there's bound to be one bad apple in such a large crowd of people, but the cast of V is strong across the boards. Highlights include Portman in her role as Evey, Stephen Rea as the disenchanted and hardened Finch, and Stephen Fry as Deitrich, who manages to take a role that was essentially massively beefed up from the book, and make the character feel like he truly belongs. Fry's a charming performer, so this should come as no shock.
Also worthy of note-- the script is actually solid. The introduction with Guy Fawkes, with a breathy Portman voice-over, was unnecessary (her line about "the man I knew" made the film come off like a coming-of-age story), and the ending needed a lot of polishing, but in an age where comic fans get enraged over any detail you can imagine, the Wachowskis managed to create a faithful version of V that is still unique. They knew what aspects to strip-- for example, V cultivating a "special Rose" for the Leader, that Rose being the wife of an agent killed early in the book, and the storyline involving Helen and her bid to seize power over the government-- and what aspects to keep. Being able to discern those bits that make your source material tick is a feat worthy of praise. And for anyone afraid of the V costume looking hokey, fear not, because that get-up looks so incredible that I'm wondering if I can get my hands on a Guy Fawkes mask myself.
But it's not a perfect film. Like the Matrix films (even the first, which I like), V suffers from a lack of care for and attention to the parts of film-making that the average moviegoer has no awareness of-- the editing was sloppy, and the sound needed a lot of work. Fortunately, at least James McTiegue cares for substance, because most of the film is pretty quality, even for someone who loves the book upon which it is based (like me). But it's the lack of care for small details that ends up keeping V from being truly great; for example, if only heterosexual white Christians were spared from Norsefire's purging of England, why do a number of non- white actors appear in the film? I grant you that they exist in the film for a microsecond before the camera turns away, but they're there, and for the world of V to be truly believable, they shouldn't be. (No, this comment is not racist. If you expect me to buy your universe where only whites are allowed to exist by a fascist government, then don't put anyone who doesn't fit that description in.) Further, the music and the sound effects both overpower dialogue frequently; it's not always key dialogue, but it's dialogue, most of it, I assume, very well-spoken. Key or not, one should not drown out their actors for the sake of cool sounds, or music that informs the audience how they are supposed to react to what they've seen on screen.
This is basic film-making, and somehow, McTiegue and the Wachowskis manage to bungle it. Again. If the Wachowskis ever want to be remembered as being great, and if McTiegue wants a serious career beyond being their lap-dog, then they would all do well to pay more attention to these aspects of putting a movie together. For now, it appears that the brothers are content to continue doing what they do without much care for the art of their craft. If one looks over the vast amount of hyperbole and effusive praise used in the other reviews here, you will note that it appears to be working.
It works, but it is not, by any means, great film-making. To those who immensely enjoyed the movie, this may appear to be nitpicking, which I can only say is demonstrative of their love for, and knowledge of, film-making as a craft, and as art. If you've got the keys to a high-budget and high-concept flick like this, drive according to the rules of the road. Now, I'm confident that McTiegue can mature into a fine director if he should find himself out of the Wachowski's pocket, but I'm not holding out much hope for the two young men too concerned with the absurd notion of making things as "cool" as possible.
Review by stage_3_dan from the Internet Movie Database.