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Filmmaking duo redefines action genre boundaries

Tae Andrews | Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The boys are back in town. Like lyrics made famous by the rock band Thin Lizzy, the hotshot duo of brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski made their triumphant return to the big screen with the recent release of “V for Vendetta.”

Known for both the intellectual nature and show-stopping action sequences of their films, the Wachowski brothers exploded onto the filmmaking scene with the 1999 release of the critically-acclaimed film “The Matrix.” Written and directed by the two brothers, “The Matrix” was an incredibly complex film that somehow managed to pair philosophical overtones with did-you-just-see-that action sequences.

In this manner, the Wachowskis cooked up a recipe to deliver the epistemology of Plato and Descartes to the dot-com generation – start with a base of thumping techno music, stir in generous amounts of bullet shells and explosions and top off with some special-effects wizardry. Add in some sunglasses to taste, and presto – behold the intellectual blockbuster.

While thought-provoking philosophical elements might provide the staple fare of the “Matrix” films, let’s be honest – everyone prefers dessert. And when it comes to shooting action, no one puts the icing on the cake better than the Wachowski brothers. They are to action what Emeril is to the cooking channel: the pair consistently manage to kick it up a notch with unbelievable fight scenes. The revolutionary minds invented bullet-time, a film technique in which lightning-quick sequences are shown by filming the action in slow-motion. Fans have grown accustomed to watching people dodging bullets, running off of walls and knocking skulls together with the Wachowski brothers’ incredible visuals, which combine poetic martial arts and staccato gunplay.

Andy and Larry followed up their breakthrough hit with two sequels, “The Matrix: Reloaded” and “The Matrix: Revolutions.” Despite the fact that the philosophical undertones of the sequels felt contrived to many, the Wachowskis managed to rake in cash flows resembling the streaming lines of emerald computer coding which make up the Matrix. According to the International Movie DataBase, the two films combined to make over $400 million at the box office.

All of their commercial success has allowed the Wachowskis to have the best of both worlds – the brothers have been able to reach a rare happy medium in which they can make high-octane movies that are smashing successes both at the box office and with the critics. In doing so, the pair has crafted an entirely new genre – the thinking man’s action flick. After their joint “Matrix” hits, the Brothers Wachowski again teamed up with another famous pair of WBs – the Warner Bros. – in creating “V for Vendetta.”

In keeping with their revolutionary nature, the Wachowski brothers wrote the script and produced “V for Vendetta,” which follows a one-man rebellion against a Big Brother-like government. While they may have missed the mark in terms of philosophy in the “Matrix” sequels, V marks the spot with their latest offering. Although the Wachowskis ceded the director’s chair on “Vendetta” to James McTeigue, they wrote the script and produced the film. “V for Vendetta” is sprinkled with their indelible fingerprints.

Also, McTeigue was the first assistant director on both of the “Matrix” sequels, and is undeniably schooled in all things Wachowski when it comes to standing behind the lens.

In addition to their penchant for breathtaking fight scenes, the Wachowskis’ obsession with the antihero is another emerging theme throughout their films – in “The Matrix,” the brothers somehow managed to turn professional mannequin Keanu Reeves into “The One,” the black-clad, messianic figure who saves all of humanity from virtual-reality enslavement through his mastery of kung-fu.

In “V for Vendetta,” Hugo Weaving plays the controversial V, a Machiavellian insurrectionist who uses terrorist tactics to undermine a fascist government. After starring opposite Keanu Reeves as Agent Smith in the Matrix trilogy, Weaving makes the transition from antagonist to protagonist here and is tremendous as the masked V.

In addition, Natalie Portman stars as Evey, a woman whose chance encounter with V inextricably winds their fates together. In a humiliating torture sequence, Evey’s long locks of hair are shorn off. While most would question the decision to shave Natalie Portman’s head, the gambit pays off in the apt hands of the Wachowskis. Portman turns out to be the hottest star to rock a shaved dome since Demi Moore in “G.I. Jane.”

The distinctive features of Wachowski cinema are all over “V for Vendetta.” The brothers create action movies that challenge the audience to think a little bit more than usual.

The pair is famously mysterious. For the “Matrix” movies, they had a contract clause that precluded their having to do any press interviews, saying they preferred their films to stand for themselves. While audiences can’t be certain of when the pair will film next, one thing is for certain – when the Wachowski brothers are in the kitchen, something smells good.