a critiQal film review Equilibrium (2002)

Plot: After World War III, a new drug has been implemented which eradicates the highs and lows of human emotion. Of course, there are some who don’t proscribe to this new way of doing things. For those people, there are the Grammaton Cleric, a highly trained specialized police force, whose sole purpose is to wipe out any resistance and burn any and all contraband. But what happens when one of the Clerics (Bale) starts questioning the rules?

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  • ...hidden under the obvious Matrix storyline is a movie worth checking out, thanks to Bale and Bean.

So, the Hollywood machine continues it’s devious practices. With The Matrix Reloaded (2003) cleaning up at the box office, what better way to promote an unheard of film then writing right on the package ”Forget ‘The Matrix (1999)’, this movie will blow you away”? Equilibrium is the latest film trying to cash in on the success of the latest theatrical release.

A bit of a surprise comes with this film, though: it’s star is actually a well-known actor, Christian Bale. Having seen him in American Psycho, Shaft (2000) and Reign of Fire (2002), as well as being intrigued (despite myself) by the reference to The Matrix (1999), I figured I’d give it a shot.

Christian Bale, who apparently has a big web following, has interested me since his starring role in the movie adaptation of one of my favorite novels, American Psycho. While the movie didn’t (and most likely couldn’t have) live up to my expectations, he did do a decent job in the title role, and brought a sense of calm insanity that seemed excellent for the part. Reign of Fire (2002) showed a different, more emotional side to him, that he pulled off easily as well.

Equilibrium brings him back to an even more calm and controlled Bale then he showed in even American Psycho, at least in the beginning. As his character begins to feel, his emotions are brought more to the forefront, and he slowly begins to morph into a more caring human. His best acting comes when he must keep his newfound feelings a secret, yet you can almost see the conflicting emotions flowing through his mind.

It’s somewhat subtle, but definitely brings the character out a bit more. Bale continues to keep me a fan of his acting, and it will be interesting to see what his next role brings him. With most of the movie focused on Bale, every other character becomes a bit role.

One familiar face, if you’re a James Bond or The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) fan, comes in the form of Sean Bean (Agent 006 in GoldenEye (1995) and Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)), as Preston’s partner, Partridge. He brings a much more emotionally charged presence to this role, and does a decent job in his brief appearance.

The plot is nothing very new, more of an updated version of a Fahrenheit 451 or 1984 scenario. Basically, take Fahrenheit 451, throw in some The Matrix (1999)-like fight scenes, and you’ve reached this film’s plot level. That’s not to say it’s bad, though, just not very original.

For most of these utopian films, there is always a few basic rules, which Equilibrium follows to a T: There is something (usually government-sanctioned) which is restricting humanity from acting as is socially acceptable now; it takes place sometime in the near future after a cataclysmic catastrophe and there is always someone who falls away from the system, usually caused by a love for something or someone. That’s a bit generalized, but you get the picture.

No matter how many times it’s retold, however, we will always be attracted to utopian films, since while they depict how wrong humanity can go with seemingly positive intentions, they also display the resilience of the human spirit. Each and every viewer will always “know” that they would have been able to break from the system just as the hero has, no matter what the odds. It’s our ability to fool ourselves into believing in our own superiority that makes these films so popular. That, and the cool action sequences, of course.

The special effects tend to vary. There is a great sequence in the beginning of the film, and another at the end, that highlight this film’s special effects at their best. In between, there seems to be a bit of a slack given in the effects. The gun battles in between are filled with a lot of needless overuse of machine guns, spraying out so many rounds you wonder how the ammunition companies can keep up. They become a bit bland and, for the most part, bloodless (which is a bit of a shocker considering all the bullets).

The standout scenes make use of some complicated dances on the part of Bale’s character, as well as some unusual lighting effects (in the first scene). It’s always nice to see action done in a new way, and this movie showcases that.

All in all, the blatant reference to The Matrix (1999) on the front cover isn’t so far off, actually. There is definitely a resemblance, yet the film doesn’t become just a copy. With it’s utopian society, it’s super-trained Clerics (and a showcase of their skills), and decent acting, this Hollywood wannabe comes off rather well.

Give Equilibrium a try – you may find out you like it.

Plus, it’s got a trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s next film, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003).

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