It's the year 2020, and the United States has plunged into disease, poverty and despair, becoming a living hell of a cautionary tale for the rest of the world. A power-hungry faction in the U.K. has seized the opportunity borne of fear and instability in their own country and established a thinly-veiled dictatorship. Its extremist policies are rationalized as being for the people's protection, but has quickly devolved into a Hitleresque regime. Lulled by surface comforts while terrified by the administration's deadly intolerance for dissent, London's populace lives a cowed existence in which they get to sit around watching bigscreen plasma televisions, but have handed over all conceivable rights. However, souls are not so easily crushed, and when a masked vigilante makes a dramatic statement by blowing up the Old Bailey Courthouse amidst grandiose fireworks and Tchaikovsky's “1812 Overture” blaring over loudspeakers, it sends shockwaves throughout the city -- not of horror, but of hope.
Hugo Weaving draws on some of Agent Smith's moves from “The Matrix” and “LOTR” elf king Elrond's eternal wisdom (plus Tick's hairstyling expertise from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) to bring a magnetic charisma, flair, depth and gravitas to the freedom fighter known only as V. V disguises himself in a mask resembling the notorious Guy Fawkes, who on November 5, 1605, attempted to blow up the Parliament building to decry the government's tyranny in what became known as the “gunpowder treason plot.” (This historical background is briefly reenacted in a scene that evokes “24” if it were in Roman numerals.) Weaving's powerful characterization is counterbalanced by Natalie Portman's pitch-perfect portrayal of Evey, a young woman who comes into V's life at a pivotal moment and must decide whether to toe the line or stand up for what's right.
The modern-day controversy of presidentially-authorized illegal wiretapping is taken to its chillingly logical extreme of regularly scheduled citywide conversation sweeps, a staggeringly visceral connection that couldn't have been planned given the timing. That is apt for a film that's all about meaningful connections and revelatory synchronicities. It all unfolds to an apex of the triumph of the best of humanity that could even change the real world. But if this sounds suspiciously like an overly-ponderous message movie, fear not: There are many deeply evil villains to dispatch, and V does it with élan, poetry, and bullet-time blades. Starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea and John Hurt. Directed by James McTeigue. Written by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Produced by Joel Silver, Grant Hill, Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. A Warner Bros. release. Drama/Thriller. Rated R for strong violence and some language. Running time: 132 min