Cast: Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Sean Bean, Taye Diggs
Special guest review!
By Jason Alt
What happens when The Matrix and Fahrenheit
451 get drunk and careless at a party? You probably end up with
something like Equilibrium. This film, pulled from
distribution at the last conceivable minute
and hardly seen by anyone anywhere, cannot be
recommended highly enough. In the tradition of such Dark Horse hits as
Boondock Saints and Office
Space, Equilibrium goes out of its way to prove
that just because a movie might not clean up (Or even appear) at the
box office doesn’t mean it won’t surprise people with how well it sells
once the DVD’s hit the shelves.
Equilibrium did not come out in a theater
near me. I did not hear anything about it for months. Then, all of a
sudden, the internet exploded with reviews; reviews which either
franticly praised, or viciously condemned the film. This was my cue to
go out and track a copy down. I decided to rent it and watch it with my
girlfriend. I made one mistake; I watched it right after I saw
The Matrix: Reloaded for the first time. I was not expecting
too much from the film, I just wanted to be entertained for a few
hours. Honestly I was going to get it out of the way so I could say “So
that’s what all the fuss was about” (Because I say things like that all
I was surprised! I was shocked! I forgot about the $13
late fee my parents racked up on our Blockbuster account and left for
me to pay! I immediately made it my business to find a copy of my
own. I very nearly paid the $30 they tried to charge me at both
Suncoast and Barnes & Noble. That is a testament to this movies’
greatness. Normally I would balk at paying $30, even for two movies,
but Equilibrium was too good for me not to be able to
watch it whenever I wanted. I lucked out and snagged a used copy for 15
bucks. Let’s be honest; 30 dollars is just too damn much for a DVD with
virtually no special features.
But enough about my quest to own the film, I need to tell
you about watching it. I mentioned that I had expected little from this
movie. I also said I was pleasantly surprised. Pleasantly surprised is
an understatement. I was as “pleasantly surprised” as someone who wins
$50,000 and a boat because his neighbor filled out a raffle ticket in
his name and forgot to tell him.
The best way to do it (if you still have a chance (most
people won’t)) is to do things in this precise order;
1) See The Matrix for the first time
2) See Equilibrium for the first time
3) See The Matrix: Reloaded for the first
Now, many people, having seen the second Matrix movie
don’t have this luxury. If you have been in a coma or in prison for the
past 6 months, you can still see Equilibrium before the
brilliant sequel to The Matrix. Equilibrium
will change your life the way the “Matrix” movies did. That assumes you
liked those movies. If not, rent Final Destination 2.
You’d be much better off watching a movie on Carson Daly’s
I realize that I have been anything but subtle in my
comparing Equilibrium and The Matrix.
This is deliberate. If Ray Bradbury had tried to copy The Matrix
he would have written something very similar to
Equilibrium. They both contain all the essential elements
demanded by their target audience (horny teenage males). These
essential elements include guns, 'splosions and boobies. I don’t make
the rules; I just shell out $10 for X2 so I can see Famke Janssen in a
form-fitting body suit.
Christian Bale plays John Preston, a special unit of law
enforcement referred to as a “Gramaton Cleric”. It is the duty of the
Clerics to dispose of “Sense offenders”; anyone who has stopped taking
their special, feeling-suppressing medication called “Prozium”. Every
citizen of “Libria” is required to take their Prozium on a regular
interval to keep them from feeling anything because those in power
believe that in this way they can stamp out war and hate crime forever.
The job of the Gramaton Cleric is simple: find and
detain sense offenders, kill sense offenders who resist arrest, and
destroy anything that has been declared “EC-10” and might trigger
emotion. EC apparently stands for “Emotional Content”. Everything is
EC-10 for the most part. In an early scene, Preston stumbles upon
a cache of paintings, including the Mona Lisa. In a scene heavily
reminiscent of Fahrenheit 451, he gives the command
“Burn it.” The most famous painting in all the world and countless
others are evaporated by industrial flame throwers as Preston turns his
back and walks away.
I didn’t love this movie so much because of the plot. I
love the work of Ray Bradbury and other similar science fiction
writers, but the
plot is not by far the best part of this film. The action scenes steal the thunder from the plot-heavy
dialogue scenes. The clerics are taught “Gun Kata’s”, wherein they
memorize a series of predetermined
movements wielding their guns much like a student of karate might wield
sai’s. The back story is that thousands of gun battles were studied,
and the probabilities of the locations of antagonists and vectors of probable return fire were determined. In
plain English, they figured out where you should stand if you don’t
want to get shot. A series of predetermined arm movements point the
guns at the probable locations of antagonists; all that is left for the
cleric to do is pull the trigger. The body moves very little, and the
head does not move at all; the movement is all in the arms. These
techniques are so effective that Preston dispatches about 10 armed
suspects in a pitch-black room and receives no return fire.
Each action scene showcases a different aspect of the
training a cleric receives; there are sword fights, gun fights, even a
gun/sword fight. The guns are used almost as daggers; parrying an
opponents’ gun with your own so you avoid taking a bullet. Guns are
taken away and used against their owners and even as bludgeons. Nearly
every conceivable use of a gun is explored in the unique and original
action scenes which pepper this film. Occasionally a gun is used to
shoot someone as well. The action does not get boring because each
scene is different and has its own unique quirks.
Have we learned nothing from The Matrix? I
think everyone everywhere would agree; stuff looks cooler when you slow
it way down. This technique was not used nearly enough in Equilibrium.
Very few times was the action slowed down so that the viewer might
catch everything, and have time to say to his friends “Did you SEE
that?” Most of the time in this film, the answer would be “No.” The
rewind button comes in handy while watching Equilibrium.
I rewound quite a few times to clarify what had happened in the action
scenes. Plus, a lot of the things that happen are worth seeing again
(Or maybe it is just me; I watched the 4 seconds of Goodfellas
where Joe Pesci is killed about 100 times before someone took the
remote control away from me. Caffeine was involved.) It would
have definitely added to the film if more of the breath-taking action
sequences had been slowed down so that they could be savored. The
scenes were not as hard to follow as those in say, Daredevil
(Whose genius idea was it to illuminate every fight scene in that movie
with a strobe light?), but they could definitely have benefited from
some slow-motion photography.
The acting in the film was phenomenal. First of all, Sean
Bean can do absolutely no wrong by me. I have seen him in a handful of
movies (Goldeneye, Ronin, Lord of
the Rings, and Equilibrium) and I have learned
two things about this actor.
1) His character will probably not be in the second half
of the movie
2) He will turn in an excellent performance
He is probably one of the most underrated actors in
recent memory. He gets my vote for the “Phillip Seymour Hoffman award
for actors who will most likely never get the lead role in a movie
anywhere other than Sundance.” Yet he always entertains, and was an
excellent choice to play Errol Partridge in Equilibrium.
It was either him or Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Then you have Christian Bale. What can I say about him
without sounding like a stalker? I’d better leave it at that. Christian
is a very consistent actor, and he keeps a straight face in moments in
the film where he is required to and most others would not have been
able to. Lots of critics really bashed his performance in this movie,
but they said the same thing about Ron Livingston in Office Space
and his career took off after that film. I guess the best thing we can
say about Christian Bale in this film is that he does about what you
would expect from Christian Bale. He is the quiet guy who starts
yelling at the end of his movies. Rent Swing Kids.
The rest of the cast does a great job as well. If someone
had turned in a sub-par performance, I would let you know. No one did.
Emily Watson has a kind of eerie charm that lends her a sort of
strange attractiveness beyond physical beauty. Taye Diggs is….American.
Thank God they put at least one American in this movie. Angus MacFayden
is…. angry. But he usually is. Good old passive/aggressive Angus.
This movie is not, however, without shortcomings. It is
not going to be a candidate for a golden globe or an academy award. But
damn, it’s entertaining! I loved it, so who cares if the critics
didn’t? Gun fights and a decent plot. The plot is not an excuse for the
violence, nor is it a means of ferrying the character from one fight
scene to the next. It is the biggest part of the film, and draws
elements from many of the great science fiction novels of the 20th
century. There are some plot holes. I can’t list them without giving
major plot events or the outcome of the film away. If you find some,
remind yourself that it is just a movie. There aren’t continuity errors
by any means. All in all, it was a superb film, and I have thoroughly
enjoyed multiple screenings in a week’s period. It is a movie one can
watch again and again. Unless you hate it, in which case you can return
it to the video store and drink strong coffee to wash the taste out of
your mouth. It isn’t for everyone, but one the other hand, it isn’t
another Zombie vs. Ninja, and that has to count for
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See also: Death Machine, Omega Doom, Robotrix