New Releases


More like A for Amateur Hour. This turgid Wachowski brothers adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s seminal 1980s comic book posits a totalitarian future England rocked by a bomb-throwing terrorist known only as V. The comic played out like what might happen if Batman were turned loose on Orwell’s 1984. The movie is something significantly less fun.

Voiced by Hugo Weaving, our vaguely sinister antihero spends the entire movie with his face concealed behind a large white Guy Fawkes mask-and the first of many cinematic speed bumps on the long journey from page to screen is the absurd notion of spending 132 minutes watching someone whose face doesn’t move. (After a while it kinda starts to feel like a puppet show.)

Moore had his name removed from the film, and it’s not hard to see why. His Thatcher-era political pot shots have been awkwardly updated for the Bush II era, but more damaging is the Wachowskis’ excision of every moral ambiguity that made the comic so fascinating-replaced here by broad, clean lines separating the good guys from the bad. The film’s allegedly “revolutionary” philosophy, which has been trumpeted by excitable advance critics for months now, is fairly dim, adolescent stuff. Think Fight Club, only without the irony.

Writing in the same babbling, humorless fashion as their woebegotten Matrix sequels, the Wachowskis again mistake leaden expository
dialogue scenes for drama. This time around they’ve turned over the helm to longtime assistant director James McTeigue, and his flat compositions and static pacing suck all the energy right out of the auditorium. V for Vendetta is drab and cheap-looking, shot on a handful of barely decorated sets with television-standard overlit shadow-free cinematography by the late Adrian Biddle. The film is a visual insult.

Natalie Portman co-stars, mangling an English accent as V‘s wide-eyed young protege. (And yes, Portman still seems to believe that standing around with your mouth hanging open constitutes a performance.) Poor Stephen Rea gets stuck pulling exposition duty in a thankless Commissioner Gordon role, relaxing in the world’s most tranquil police station, putting together clues and languidly explaining everything we just saw happen in the previous scene. For a movie about terrorist attacks on a major city, the lack of urgency is stunning.

As is the lack of a population. We’re told (time and again) that V’s pranks and televised manifestos are finally stirring a complacent British people into action. The film attempts to communicate this by cross-cutting to exactly one suburban home and one nearly empty bar, where we watch the same precious few extras have identical emotional reactions, according to the whims of the script.

This spectacularly unconvincing portrayal of a city culminates in the Wachowskis’ most bizarre departure from the original text-in which the oppressed Londoners finally rise up against the fascist forces of conformity by … all donning the exact same identity-concealing costumes? Wait, that can’t be right, can it?

Find Me Guilty
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Reviewed by Sean Burns
Opens Fri., March 17

A full 49 years after making his feature directing debut with 12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet returns to the courtroom with the cheerfully amoral farce Find Me Guilty. Here’s a movie so cockeyed and strange, the fact that Vin Diesel gives a decent performance isn’t even the weirdest thing about it.

The opening titles explain that all courtroom dialogue is taken directly from actual trial transcripts. A wise move, as otherwise folks would probably be walking out halfway through, shaking their heads in disbelief.

Find Me Guilty chronicles the longest mob trial in history, a grueling two-year affair in which 20 members of the Lucchese family were brought up on 76 separate charges. Of course everybody had their own lawyer. Well, everybody except Giacomo DiNorscio.

Played quite well by Diesel (geez, it feels weird typing that) beneath some rather silly prosthetics, “Jackie Dee” is already doing 30 on a coke charge-so since he’s got nothing to lose, he might as well save some cash by acting as his own attorney.

Much to the sputtering consternation of the judge (Ron Silver), DiNorscio treats the courtroom like it’s open-mike night at the Copacabana. “I’m not a gangster. I’m a gagster !” he announces, before bellowing his way through some of the oldest and moldiest Henny Youngman jokes in the book.

Alex Rocco’s Nick Calabrese is worried the buffoon is gonna blow it for the wiseguys. But sly defense lawyer Ben Klandis (yet another terrific turn by Peter Dinklage) senses that the yammering mook is connecting with people. “A laughing jury,” he observes, “is never a hanging jury.”

Find Me Guilty‘s midsection is devoted to DiNorscio’s King of Comedy routine, and it’s hard not to bust a gut. Diesel makes the dem-dese-and-dose bluster surprisingly ingratiating, and he’s got a real comic rapport with Dinklage. (The wonderful visual dissonance of teaming Vin Diesel with a dwarf never gets old.)

After logging hundreds of hours in film and television, Sidney Lumet could probably direct a courtroom procedural in his sleep. At 81, the man still knows exactly where to place the camera. What escapes him is the movie’s tone-which is obscenely sunny and upbeat for a movie about a bunch of scumbags and killers.

    More Popular Articles

    Upcoming Philly Events