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EQUILIBRIUM (director/writer: Kurt Wimmer; cinematographer: Dion Beebe; editors: Tom Rolf/William Yeh; music: Klaus Badelt; cast: Christian Bale (John Preston), Emily Watson (Mary O’Brien), Taye Diggs (Brandt), Angus MacFadyen (Dupont), Sean Bean (Partridge), Matthew Harbour (Robbie Preston), William Fichtner (Jurgen); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jan De Bont/Lucas Foster; Dimension Films; 2002)
“It only adds unneeded celluloid to an increasingly tired genre!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A tedious rip-off sci-fi film, itching to be another Matrix (or, maybe just a bearable flick!), that brazenly steals everything from Orwell’s 1984 novel and many other thinking man’s films, with the same Dystopian agenda, such as Fahrenheit 451. It offers for the viewers of the more low rent sci-fi films the required martial-arts fight sequences and plenty of metallic techno gadgetry; and, it appeals to a more arty audience by its cleverly created totalitarian gothic set design of mixing actual Berlin locations with CGI effects. Nevertheless, it fails overall to arouse interest dramatically, conceptually or inventively. I’ve seen this film’s theme played out too often (and in a more spirited way) in recent films to find its well-intentioned virtues necessarily welcome or pleasing. It only adds unneeded celluloid to an increasingly tired genre!

Director-writer Kurt Wimmer (1995-“One Man’s Justice”), a screenwriter for such films as the 1998-“Sphere,” the 1999-“The Thomas Crown Affair” and the 2003-“The Recruit,” never got this ‘baby’ off the ground. The banal dialogue was risible (a prime example has the humanist heroine played by Emily Watson in all seriousness state: “Without love, breath is just a clock ticking”), the main action hero, Christian Bale, was miscast. His stiff actions were too self-conscious and deliberate to fill the role of an action hero. The bleak settings were uninspiring; the overall grey effect was more stunting than enlightening. What becomes most annoying is that it strings together a bunch of clichés from just about every sci-fi film and the melodrama never becomes anything more than a silly exercise in acting silly. It’s a film that, quite frankly, offers little entertainment value or much of anything else (it even fails to answer most of the challenging questions it raises about state-controlled suppression).

Equilibrium takes place in a futuristic world in the 21st-century post-WWIII. It resembles a fascist state where books are burned and no emotions are allowed in the belief this will prevent an uprising and another world war. John Preston (Christian Bale) is the highest ranking Grammaton ninjalike cleric in Libria, where he’s a police enforcer (using a new fight technique called “Gun-Kata”) going on missions to root out all rebels who haven’t taken their required daily dose of the emotion suppressing Prozium; and, he’s also around to rid the world of literature, art and sentimental relics of the past. Preston catches cleric partner Partridge (Sean Bean) sneaking off with a book of poetry by WB Yeats, and turns him over to the state authorities. Partridge’s expected fate is as doomed as Preston’s wife, who was executed for Sense Offences (leaving him a widower with two children, one of them training in the monastery to be a cleric). But the tricky Partridge before he departs this dystopia, tells his robotic partner “I spread my dreams under your feet.”

Before you can say ‘let’s burn some more books’ all of the following things happen to Preston: he’s given a new uptight cleric partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs), who may be able to read his mind, he’s impressed with the unrepentant sense offender he arrested–Mary O’Brien (Emily Watson), and he’s letting some feelings into his hard interior as he takes pity on a stray puppy. This leads him to tell his big boss, Dupont (Angus MacFadyen), he wants to go after and permanently wipe out the underground movement (those that have stopped taking their drugs and are trying to save the items that have been banned). But Preston has become converted to the rebel’s side by the feelings seeping through him, and he now aims to kill his society’s leader–Father (another way of saying Big Brother)–with the help of the underground workers, and therefore hopes by contacting the rebels it will lead to a revolution.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”