Musings on V-for-Vendetta: The Art of Acting Beneath a Mask

I just re-watched V for Vendetta this past weekend. I must’ve dozed off the first time around as I forgot much about the movie’s plot.

Set in a dystopian future of Great Britain ruled by a fascist government, it’s a fascinating story as the ‘hero’ is a quintessential terrorist. Morally ambiguous? That’s putting it mildly. Call him a masked vigilante, a freedom fighter, but it’s all semantics really. Let’s face it, the shadowy figure who calls himself ‘V’ is a radical extremist. Heck, he even wears a creepy-looking Guy Fawkes mask, the 17th-century British anarchist who failed to destroy the House of Parliament back in 1605. But contrast him with the Hitler-like Chancellor Sutler (John Hurt), it’s hard not to root for the guy. Natalie Portman plays the movie’s protagonist Evey Hammond, who’s rescued by V from a group of crooked policemen one fateful night. She ends up uncovering the truth about his mysterious background, as well as her own, and emerges as V’s unlikely ally in the culmination of his plot to bring down the totalitarian government.

Now, I’m not about to discuss the movie’s controversial nature. Politics aside, the movie really works as an art form, it’s beautifully made, well-written (check out V’s poetic introduction made into a kinetic typography clip at the end of the post) and impeccably acted, especially by the man under the mask, Australian actor Hugo Weaving. From start to finish, we didn’t get to see the actor’s face for even a second, and that ceramic mask means not one iota of facial movement was visible. The advantage of that is I became fully immersed in the tragic character, and often forgot there was an actor beneath that straight ebony hair and perfectly-cut black ‘uniform.’  The absence of facial expression is more than made up by the way the character expressed himself with even the tiniest movement: the way he walks, his gestures, and the manner of speaking. So Weaving pretty much acted with his body language and that signature deep voice of his, which can be all commanding, bone-chilling, and soothing depending on the circumstances.

Weaving has played many iconic roles before, he’s Neo’s nemesis Agent Smith in The Matrix and the elven Lord Elrond in The Lord of the Rings. But he’s equally compelling in small indie roles: playing a blind photographer in Proof (with a young Russell Crowe) and a desperate junkie in Little Fish with Cate Blanchett (which I had the privilege to see at 2005 TIFF). Yet I think his performance as V stands to be one of his best. I particularly love the dancing scene below, which showcased the vigilante’s tender side.

Interestingly enough, that same night I read this Karl Urban interview in ScreenRant, where he will be stepping into what Mr. Weaving has done remarkably well in this movie, that is acting beneath the Judge Dredd‘s helmet for the upcoming comic-book adaptation. According to that article, Urban appears to understand the importance of Dredd’s helmet and will be leaving his face covered for the duration of the film’s running time – but don’t expect he’ll merely rely on his tough-guy jawline for two hours.

“You’re taught as an actor that if you take away the eyes you have to think about what you’re left with – there’s the voice; there’s body language. How a character does what he does speaks volumes. So those are the tools I will have to employ.” – Urban is quoted as saying.

Judging from that statement, looks like Urban will do well in this role, though of course I would wish he’d play more roles where I could see his handsome face. [updated 4-2013, now that I have seen Dredd, check out my review]

Anyway, here’s the kinetic typography clip I mentioned above:

Any additional thoughts you’d like to add about the movie? Do share in the comments section below.

The Flix List: Five noteworthy young actresses (under 30)

A week ago, I posted the five noteworthy young actors (under 30) list, and a loyal reader Julian asked if there is a female counterpart to this post. Why of course! Took me a while to get the write-up for each, but picking them was easy.

  1. Emily Blunt (27)
    Everyone who’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada would vouch that the English starlet stole scenes as the sardonic fashion assistant. Not too long after that I saw her playing a completely different character in The Jane Austen Book Club as Prudie, the young French teacher on the brink of an affair with his student. I adore her in this movie, she just screams sophistication and elegance, but still gives that icy undercurrent that adds to her allure. She was also terrific in The Young Victoria, a role which nabbed her a Golden Globes nomination.

    Her new movie Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon has been pushed back to next March 2011.
  2. Abbie Cornish (27)
    I’ve only seen two of her movies, but that’s enough to see what a gifted performer she is. That’s why I’ve picked her as one of my Top Ten Aussie Actors, and in my review of Bright Star, I mentioned that she really was the brightest thing about the biopic of John Keats. Her portrayal of the lovestruck Fanny Brawne was simply breathtaking that I believe she was robbed of some major nominations that year. Recently I rented A Good Year, and Abbie totally could hold her own opposite Russell Crowe. I’d love to see the two work together again in the future.

    Cornish is one of the girl fighters in the Zack Snyder’s fantasy thriller Sucker Punch.
  3. Natalie Portman (29)
    I almost didn’t include her in this list thinking that Natalie is already over 30. I guess the Israeli-born actress is a bit of an old soul. Her feature film debut at the age of 11 in The Professional (or Léon internationally) was a dark, indelible performance. No wonder it got people talking and still referred to as one of her best roles.  She garnered worldwide fame when cast as Queen Amidala in Star Wars, but continue to balance her blockbuster projects with a more personal independent projects. In between two Star Wars films, she nabbed an Oscar nomination playing a stripper in the drama Closer. She was compelling as Evey in the sci-fi thriller V for Vendetta, one of those rare beauty who still looks stunning even with a bald head!

    Portman’s next projects include the comic adaptation Thor and a bizarre project called Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.
  4. Keira Knightley (25)
    A lot of people probably saw Keira for the first time in Star Wars without realizing who she was. She played Queen Amidala’s decoy as obviously she bears a striking resemblance to Portman. According to IMDb trivia, when in makeup, not even the mothers of the actresses could tell them apart! Well, suffice to say she’s come a long way since then. The waif actress has grown to be a remarkable actress and has chosen her roles quite well, varying between tomboy-ish roles (Domino, King Arthur) and romantic leading lady (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice). I initially thought she was far too pretty to play Elizabeth Bennett, but her earthy quality and down-to-earth portrayal made the portrayal quite believable.

    Her new movie Never Let Me Go is out on limited release in mid September.
  5. Ellen Page (23)
    The fresh-faced Canadian is easily one of the most talented young actors of this generation. It doesn’t take an Oscar nomination (for Juno) for people to realize that, though that certainly is well-deserved. She comes across as the brainy girl, though there’s a sinister side of her if you’ve seen even a glimpse of Hard Candy, which will make any pedophile shudder at what a seemingly-wholesome teen is capable of. Christopher Nolan obviously thought highly of her when he cast her in a key role in Inception.

    Next up for Miss Page is the action/comedy Super with Rainn Wilson.

Honorable Mentions (I will add this feature to the actors post as well):

  • Carey Mulligan (Haven’t seen An Education yet, but I hear she’s quite good)
  • Anna Kendrick (Fantastic in Up in the Air, can’t believe she’s the same girl in Twilight!)
  • Scarlett Johansson (Love her in Lost in Translation, but hasn’t impressed me in other stuff lately)
  • Chloe Moretz (Impressive as the wise-beyond-her-years sister of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer
  • Saiorse Ronan (Delivered a brilliant performance as the young Briony in Atonement. A challenging role for anyone at any age, let alone a 13 year-old!)

Ok folks, your turn. Which young actress(s) have impressed you lately?

Casting & Misc. News: FlixChatter Highlights

Looks like the last FlixChatter’s news post in 2009 will end with some bizarre ones. So let’s get to ’em, shall we?

Natalie Portman & the twisted-classic book cover

  • Pride & Prejudice meets Zombies
    It doesn’t get more bizarre than this. Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the movie will focus on heroine Elizabeth Bennet’s quest for love and independence amidst the outbreak of a deadly virus that turns the undead into vicious killers (Variety). Her battle with the zombies inevitably gets distracted by the arrival of the pompous Mr. Darcy. Natalie Portman has signed on to play miss Bennet, and now FirstShowing reported that the movie might’ve found an unlikely director/screenwriter combo: David O’Russell. The famously temperamental director (there’s a link to a vid of him screaming profanities at Lily Tomlin on the FirstShowing article) is currently wrapping up The Fighter with Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg. Hmmm, I wonder how the set is like with him and Bale working together? DPs better have their earplugs handy.
  • Sam Worthington in Flash Gordon reboot?
    Now this one isn’t exactly news, as Cinematical downplayed this one as mere rumor at this point. Reportedly, the Avatar star and Ryan Reynolds are the two being considered to play the American football player. Neither is a stranger to action-packed roles, and though both are foreign actors (Aussie and Canadian respectively), both of them are look like the jock-type that’d fit the role. I always thought the original Flash kind of resemble Ashton Kutcher with blond hair, he’d be a good one if they’re making a spoof of that. According to the article, the potential director of the film Breck Eisner’s vision is to throw away the 80s version … For me it’s about reinventing ‘Flash’ – we’re still staying true to the adventure origins of it, and the adventurous spirit in that movie, absolutely. It’s this man brought to another planet and uniting the disparate groups on Mongo, but there is a gritty, intense, dynamic, active quality to the movie. Very modern. It’s not camp.”
  • James McAvoy in talks to play Bond creator Ian Fleming
    I’m surprised they haven’t made a movie of this sooner as I’d think his life would make for an interesting biopic. The Scottish actor (Atonement, Wanted) will play the English author based on Andrew Lycett’s book Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond. Per EmpireOnline, here’s what we could expect: Fleming lived largely in the shadow of his politician father and more notable siblings, living the life of a wayward playboy before World War II changed his life and gave him the inspiration for Britain’s best secret agent. No director’s been attached to this yet, but this looks like meaty role for the talented McAvoy.
  • Knightley, Fassbender and Waltz cast in The Talking Cure?
    Two Inglorious Basterds stars are joining Keira Knightley in the David Cronenberg’s film. described the plot as such: A beautiful young woman, driven mad by her past. An ambitious doctor on a mission to succeed. An esteemed mentor with a revolutionary cure. Let the mind games begin. The film is an adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s 2002 play of the same name. Knightley would play Sabina Spielrein, a Russian-Jewish psychiatric patient, who is said to have inspired some of Carl Jung (Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud’s (Waltz) most remarkable discoveries. Ralph Fiennes played Jung in the theater production back in 2003.
  • Rene RussoRene Russo joined the star-studded Thor
    The Kenneth Branagh’s superhero movie got Russo back from being MIA for about 5 years. Her last movie was Yours, Mine and Ours back in 2005. She will play queen of Asgard Frigga, the mother of hammer wielding Norse hero and wife of Norse god Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. For more info about the movie, read it in my previous post. The movie is set for release May 20, 2011.

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: Thor

Thor Cast
Branagh, Hopkins, Portman & Hemsworth

Is this a comic-based flick or another Hamlet adaptation? The cast for the upcoming Marvel comic adaptation Thor is is looking pretty high brow. First, we’ve got Shakesperean actor/director Kenneth Branagh at the helm. Second, the lineup includes the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard and Samuel L. Jackson.

I’d never peg Branagh to be doing a movie like this, which is all the more reason I’m intrigued to see what he’ll bring to the table. Seems that more and more serious thespians are joining the comic-book bandwagon, just this week it’s been reported that Dame Helen Mirren will star in an espionage thriller Red, which is based on a DC comic. Now, some might think they are merely wanting a little piece of the superhero pie as one Cinematical writer put it. She also astutely noted that the quality of these genre flicks have been greatly improved over the years that if there ever was a stigma of being involved in those, it’s quickly eroding. I’d say it’s a win-win trend for everyone involved: the project gets some kind of prestige-boost, the actors get a heftier paycheck (as films of this genre usually get a relatively bigger budget), and we the moviegoers get to see higher-caliber acting alongside some kick-ass CGI. That’s definitely not a bad thing, especially the fact that with the continued success of both DC and Marvel projects, comic book flicks surely aren’t going away any time soon.

For anyone not familiar with the comics, here’s a quick plot summary from THR’s blog: The movie’s story sees the god of thunder Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions re-ignite an ancient war. As punishment, Thor is cast down to Earth and forced to live among humans. Once here, he learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends dark forces of Asgard to invade Earth.

Hopkins will play the Norse god Odin, who is Thor’s father and ruler of Asgard. Newcomer Chris Hemsworth (who’s last seen as Capt. Kirk’s father in Star Trek) has been given the role of Thor and Natalie Portman will play his love interest.

The movie is set to be released Summer of 2011.