Thursday, January 30, 2014

Review: "Equilibrium" Borrows from Dystopian Classics (Happy B'day, Christian Bale)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 165 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Equilibrium (2002)
Running time:  107 minutes (1 hour, 47 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence
PRODUCERS:  Jan de Bont and Lucas Foster
EDITORS:  Tom Rolf and William Yeh
COMPOSER:  Klaus Badelt

SCI-FI/ACTION/DRAMA with elements of mystery and thriller

Starring:  Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson, Sean Bean, Sean Pertwee, William Fichtner, Angus Macfadyen, Dominic Purcell, Matthew Harbour, and Emily Siewert

The subject of this movie review is Equilibrium, a 2002 dystopian science fiction film and action movie from writer-director Kurt Wimmer.  Starring Christian Bale and Taye Diggs, the film is set in a fascist future where all forms of feeling are illegal, and the story focuses on a law enforcement officer who rises to overthrow the system.

In a dystopian future, the totalitarian regime of the city-state, Libria, has eliminated war by suppressing emotions.  The rulers believe that ultimately emotions cause humans to kill one another.  The cost of ridding the world of violent emotions, however, is the loss of love and kindness.  Books, art, music, or any kind of creativity that might arouse the emotions are also strictly forbidden, and such material is contraband to be destroyed on sight.  Feeling is a crime, and those who insist on feeling are called sense offenders.  Sense offenses are punishable by death, and the government requires its citizens to inject themselves with a drug called prozium, which keeps their emotions in check.

Of course such a government would face rebellion, and it does from the regions outside the city known as the Nethers.  To fight sense offenders in the city and in the Nethers, the government created an elite unit made of a special kind of police officer/warrior known as the Grammaton Cleric.  Stronger, inhumanely agile, and quicksilver fast, clerics use a form of fighting known as “the Gun-Katas,” which mixes martial arts and firearms handling that makes it possible for one cleric to kill a room full of armed men in the span of several seconds.

The best of these warriors is John Preston (Christian Bale), who destroys sense offenders with ease (and perhaps relish, if he could feel emotions).  However, when Preston misses a dose of Prozium, he begins to have feelings again, and he experiences a pang of conscience when he must kill in the Nethers.  Suddenly being capable of feeling, he finds himself drawn to a sense offender scheduled for execution, Mary O’Brien (Emily Watson).  There is, however, danger in Preston’s feelings.  His new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs, who gives a nice sheen to Brandt’s bold and ruthless ambition), is, like Preston, intuitive – able to sense when someone is have feelings and emotions, and Brandt is determined to make a name for himself – even if it means bringing Preston down.

Some might mistake writer/director Kurt Wimmer’s 2000 film, Equilibrium, for a clone of The Matrix (1999).  The fancy, martial arts fighting (Gun-Kata, a style developed by Wimmer and the film’s choreographer, Jim Vickers) certainly encourages that belief, but unlike The Matrix, wire work martial arts (or wire-fu) – using wires to lift the actors high off the ground – wasn’t used here.

Equilibrium actually borrows from or resembles (in part or whole) such classic science fiction novels dealing with dark futures as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, George Orwell’s 1984, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and even a bit of William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run.  In the case of Equilibrium, the filmmakers make the right choice of focusing on crime (feeling) and punishment (death) rather than on the practicality of these future laws against emotion and feeling.  In that way, the plot is free to unfold as a narrative about the struggle for freedom in a futuristic setting.  In terms of entertainment, that’s better than an examination of the hard science of using drugs to suppress emotions or even telling the story from a sociological point of view.

Christian Bale is expert at playing the tightly coiled male or the stoic warrior.  However, he’s also quite artful at slowly revealing his emotional side in ways that endear him to the viewer.  Watching his government-issued impassive and detached façade crumble to reveal a fully functional human is a joy.  Bale may not be the leading man, but he is a leading man.  Good performances from Taye Diggs, Emily Watson, and Sean Bean add credibility to Equilibrium’s concept.  Still, it would have been nice to see more character in the supporting characters.

7 of 10

Friday, August 4, 2006

Updated:  Thursday, January 30, 2014

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