Genre: Action and Sci-Fi Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.
Release Date: December 6th, 2002 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kurt Wimmer Actors: Christian Bale, Sean Bean, Dominic Purcell, Sean Pertwee, William Fichtner, Angus MacFadyen, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson
n the first years of the 21st century, a third World War broke out. Those who survived knew that mankind could never survive a fourth; the volatile nature of human beings would only increase, ensuring continued ruination. So, with classic governmental overreach on the horizon, a new organization is formed: the Grammaton Cleric, whose elite soldiers have only one purpose – to eradicate the true source of man’s inhumanity to man, which is his ability to feel.
In walks John Preston (Christian Bale), a first-class cleric, tasked with wiping out yet another stronghold of emotion and creativity – a stash house of music, art, books, and various trinkets that reflect the remnants of traditional human society. In a rather unintentionally comical moment, Preston stares down the recovered Mona Lisa painting before ordering it to be burned. In this peaceful yet bleak future, any item that might spark feelings is dubbed EC-10 or “sense offense” material, which warrants immediate destruction. A drug called Prozium is administered to citizens at regular intervals (mandated by alarm bells sounded off in the city centers and available at Equilibrium buildings), which helps suppress emotions on a personal, chemical basis. But despite all of these precautions, including Vice Counsel Dupont (Angus MacFadyen) routinely interviewing his staff, Preston’s partner Errol Partridge (Sean Bean) succumbs to the forbidden, finer things in life – such as poetry by Yeats.
After discovering Partridge’s indiscretions, John executes the man, betraying no emotion at all. Or does he? With each criminal he apprehends, Preston begins to realize that living without feelings negates the very reason to be alive.
It may be a complete rip-off of “1984” – and by extension, “Brazil,” “Gattaca,” and “The Matrix” – or any of the other countless, futuristic, oppressive-regime/soul-crushing, postapocalyptic civilization movies, but “Equilibrium” is one of the better ones. If a picture is going to borrow heavily from works before it, it might as well loot from the best. It also helps tremendously that writer/director Kurt Wimmer was able to acquire such a talented cast – from Bale’s efficiency as a dispassionate soldier to the high caliber of notable supporting players like Emily Watson, Sean Bean, and William Fichtner. Even child star Matthew Harbour is exceptional. Great actors, however, can’t solely redeem the more mediocre materials in play.
There are plenty of overly familiar ideas, such as a Resistance, the “processing” of underground fighters, and the involvement of an unseen, supreme leader named “Father.” To counter this, there are also a few new concepts, such as the gunkata martial arts form (essentially kung-fu with shooting weapons) and the parallels of Preston’s downward spiral with that of his partner (along with the well-kept secrets of his wife and children). Unfortunately, rather than exploring the thought-provoking side of fascistic rule, or the tragedies of discovering the righteousness of the opposition and failing to protect loved ones, “Equilibrium” goes for the heavy-handed approach. Shooting puppies, striking absurd poses, and abusing slow-motion for the sake of over-the-top action sequences might play up to the target audience, but these methods only work to deprive the filmmakers from realizing this project’s full potential. Still, the costuming, set designs, and music (by Klaus Badelt, which is actually spectacular) are far more impressive than anyone might expect. And the finale, though riddled with excessive silliness in its choreography, possesses a few shots (particularly one that artistically cuts back to a shocking demise) that transcend the mindless action angle to glimpse the sci-fi ingenuity buried beneath.
– Mike Massie