Promotional material for Equilibrium, be it movie posters or the DVD case, seems to frequently feature quotes from reviewers comparing it favorably to The Matrix. It’s an apt comparison, as anybody who has seen both films will recognize certainly similarities. Like The Matrix, Equilibrium is a science-fiction film set in a subtle dystopia. Like The Matrix, it’s a film that relies heavily on action and style, a style which indeed bears a more-than-passing resemblance to its predecessor (one wonders if the Wachowskis told director Kurt Wimmer where to shop). Like The Matrix, it features a large dose of philosophy and thinks it’s a lot smarter than it actually is. And like The Matrix, this pseudo-intellectualism doesn’t actually hurt it much.
Equilibrium is set after mankind has recovered from the third world war, in the city-state of Libria. The ruling government of Libria (we never see any hints of whether the rest of the world still exists) have decided that all war and conflict have their roots in jealousy, greed, and anger. To curb global and domestic violence, they have decided to eliminate the problem at its source: human emotion. The people of Libria are dosed daily with a drug that inhibits their emotional reactions. Anything which can provoke a strong emotional reaction — such as art, poetry, and music — is banned. Special agents called Grammaton Clerics are sent out to the fringes of the city to eliminate any uprisings and resistance that try to preserve these cultural items.
The successful elimination of violence.
Christian Bale plays John Preston, one of the most high-ranking Grammaton Clerics. Bale starts off the film playing the stoic badass type that he would become better known for after Batman Begins three years later. Later, as Preston inevitably starts to get drawn away from the daily drug doses — I don’t think it constitutes a spoiler to mention this, as it’s the plot that is demanded by the setting — Bale gets to show a greater range of emotion. As Preston is experiencing these emotions for the first time, Bale is able to use these scenes to great effect, with some emotional reactions being questioning and unsure, and others overwhelming him in their intensity.
Bale also gets the opportunity to show off his action skills (again, as he would become known for with the Batman films). The Clerics practice a technique called “Gun Kata”, in which rapid choreographed movements allow them to dodge predicted attacks while taking on their opponents with maximum efficiency. It’s far from realistic, but it’s extremely entertaining to watch, and I’m fully on the side of going for entertainment over reality when it comes to action films, at least on matters such as this.
He knows gun fu.
Bale is surrounded by a handful of supporting characters, and the actors in those roles have an interesting challenge in that their characters are mostly supposed to be emotionless, or to have only limited emotions. Emily Watson, playing one of the resistance, is an exception and gets a few quietly emotional scenes. Perhaps the best supporting role is Matthew Harbour (then 12 years old) as Preston’s son; he plays the emotionless creepy child with an uncanny skill. There’s an element to the narrative that makes it difficult for the older actors to play their characters in a way that is both accurate to the story as a whole and not cause the audience to lose their suspension of disbelief. This isn’t the fault of the actors, or really even writer/director Wimmer; it’s just a consequence of a tricky premise to pull off in a standard action movie. It does hold the film back a bit, but my advice to the viewer is that when one sees an emotional slip-up to just roll with it.
Equilibrium is a film that seems to have flown under the radar, and is likely to continue to do so. But it presents an interesting and unusual vision of the future, one envisioned earlier by THX-1138, but portrayed here in a more energetic and entertaining fashion. The philosophical points may not be particularly strong — there’s a sense of redundancy in reminding a film audience of the importance of emotions — but they bolster the film from being just another action film. If Equilibrium stumbles across your path, it’s worth picking it up for a look.
I wasn’t a big fan of the movie, but loved the gunkatas!
I know, stylish, right? 😀
The action is fun and kinetic, but for some odd reason, there’s not much else there. I liked Diggs and Bale, but they don’t really do much with this script, mainly because the script doesn’t allow them to actually do anything. Nice review Morgan.
Thanks, Dan. You’re right that it’s certainly thin on substance. For me, the fun outweighed that, but it’s a worthy argument.
Interesting… Ive never seen this one, but it has been on my radar. I’ve heard some good things. I guess I should give it a look next time, huh? 😉
Yeah. Don’t set your sights too high for the cerebral aspects, but just as an action film it’s pretty fun.
I actually enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected to. I think the action scenes are good, and the story is actually nicely written.
The story is good enough for what it needs to be, certainly. Thanks for commenting, Jeffro!
Another interesting note: Bale’s John Preston racks up the third-highest body count in motion picture history with 118 kills.
Wow. That’s pretty impressive. I mean, yeah, I noticed all the bodies falling, but I didn’t realize it was quite that many.
Here’s where those stats come from: http://www.moviebodycounts.com/
Some fun stuff there, like how Charlie Sheen from “Hot Shots: Part Deux” is right behind Bale, and Uma Thurman from Kill Bill is way down at #11.
Once again, the internet delights me with its thorough command of utterly trivial information. That’s almost as fun a discovery as the Internet Movie Firearms Database.
Gah! Another reminder of City of Heroes. We’re *never* going to get a Dual Pistols melee set! Never!
I didn’t read the review past the opening paragraph, but I’m sure its excellent. I know you try to avoid spoilers, but This has been on my no-so-shortlist for a long time. I’ll come back and read the rest after I watch it. It’s been on the list for far too long. I’m knocking it out this week.
I used Dual Pistols as a melee set anyway. Come to think of it, that was my general approach to any power set… scrapper at heart, always.
I’ll look forward to seeing what you think. I think this is the kind of film you’d enjoy.
Me too… on all counts. Claire Trigger was Dual/Elec… Blaptastic. Nyctimene was Sonic/Eng, also Blaptastic.
I also think I’ll enjoy it… but not so much so that I’m going in with crazy high expectations.
Finally got around to this one. Yup, you nailed it. After just reading your review now, I wish I had given it the full review 100% spoilery treatment. I’m guessing you’re referring to Taye Diggs specifically when you’re talking about the older actors having trouble portraying emotionlessness. I think that’s a “subtlety” that we’re only supposed to pick up on after multiple viewings… since the ending should be so surprising.
I loved the heavy-handed irony (not sure if true irony or incorrect usage, but I’m using it anyway) and can’t-make-it-any-clearer paradox of requiring a one-sided war machine to “end” war.
I had some major problems with the motivations of Bale’s character, but they don’t completely ruin the movie, even though they were, for me, its biggest flaw.
Yeah, I do think the flares of emotions are supposed to be “hints”, but I don’t think they’re anywhere near subtle enough. But it’s a difficult thing to do… you tell the audience that people don’t have emotions, and then they’re primed to look for them.
Yup. Even from the get-go, the idea of him having ambition just messes up the whole premise.
You nailed it. It is a very fun film, but it has its share of problems. First off, the fact that it’s so stylistically similar to The Matrix is distracting. Also, like you said, the movie thinks it’s smarter than it is. Still, the film is highly entertaining.
Thanks, Dan. I’m glad to find I’m not the only one who thought the stylistic similarities were distracting. It’d be nice if sci-fi action films would realize that they have options other than black leather trench coats, wouldn’t it?
Indeed it would be.
Was not a fan of this one. Thought it was a bit bland, done before (and better) and just a bit laughable in places thanks to some silly direction during the action scenes. Most notable for another great death scene by Sean Bean.
Bean does seem to collect death scenes, doesn’t he?
Pingback: Renaissance | Morgan on Media