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Equilibrium
(2002)

Writer/Director: Kurt Wimmer          
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, ...and what happens to people who were heroes in the first place?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 the time).

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 time

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 recommendation.

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 Nice of him to show his gun to someone before shooting themand 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 Some people just aren't good hiding their cheating during examsWatson 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 something.

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See also: Death Machine, Omega Doom, Robotrix

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