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V for Vendetta

Year: 2006
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: James McTeigue
Producer: Joel Silver/Andy Wachowski/Larry Wachowski
Writer: Andy Wachowski/Larry Wachowski
Cast: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry
There's a strong divide in movies – there's the action blockbuster and there's the thoughtful political or philosophical tract, and they rarely coincide seamlessly. Before adapting the Alan Moore graphic novel into a script, the Wachowski brothers' last effort (The Matrix) lurched uncomfortably from one to the other, making you think you were watching two different movies.

As the Wachowskis only adapted the story, Alan Moore can be credited with merging the two, but things looked bad when he disowned the project and ordered his name removed.

It looked like it was going to have a few 'brave' scenes, like Natalie Portman getting her head shaved and the notoriously touchy (and currently off-limits) subjects like the difference between terrorism and heroism and blowing up buildings as a symbol of resistance. But with a comic book-like hero who throws knives, knows martial arts and wears a mask it also looked like it was going to be another lame hero-saves-the-day between action sequences with a few words plugging the gaps.

Instead, as promised, we get the smartest action movie of the year, a near-perfect meld of both the escapism and the importance of social debate we get from the movies.

Evey (Portman) lives and works in a near-future totalitarian London, where the Nazi-like government has used wowser populism to enclose an iron grip around dissent and where the people live in terror by the powers that be – complete with the modern trappings no right wing government can be without, such as the O'Reilly-like talkback TV host spewing constant hatred.

She's rescued one night from the nefarious secret police who patrol during curfews by a poetry-spouting, costumed character wearing a Guy Fawkes mask who wants to bring down the establishment. The stranger invites her to witness his first act of destruction as a gesture against the regime they live under, presided over by religious right nutbag Sutter (Hurt, in most scenes an eerie parody of Big Brother, perhaps a nod to his nemesis in 1984).

He hijacks a TV station and broadcasts a message to the people inciting them to stand up and fight the powers of oppression, promising them he'll complete the act Guy Fawkes failed to carry out centuries before.

He takes Evey into his confidence, teaching her lessons about herself (the reason for the protracted capture and torture sequence), and she becomes his ally. And all the while, the detective (Rea) who sits on the inner circle of power, smells a rat – not just about the man they're hunting but a conspiracy involving a mental asylum which he is warned in no uncertain terms not to pursue.

A detective story, a strong statement relevant to our times, an action movie and an adventure, all of it executed with care and reverence as well as the best of epic cinema, it's essential viewing for fans of several genres. It's not afraid to depict blood, and it asks you some hard questions while entertaining you as well, a singular triumph for any film.

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