STARRING:  Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs, Angus MacFadyen, Sean Bean, Oliver Brandl, Francesco Cabras

2002, 106 Minutes, Directed by: Kurt Wimmer

Description: Earth's post-World War III humankind is in a state of severe emotional repression: If no one feels anything, no one will be inspired by dark passions to attack their neighbors. John Preston (Christian Bale) is a top cop who busts "sense offenders" and crushes sentimental, sensual, and artistic relics from a bygone era. Predictably, Preston becomes intrigued by his victims and that which they die to cherish; he stops taking his mandatory, mood-flattening drug and is even aroused by a doomed prisoner (Emily Watson).

If you were disappointed by recent sci-fi actioners like Terminator 3 and Matrix Reloaded, then you’d probably be pleasantly surprised by this underappreciated 2002 movie starring Christian Bale (of American Psycho fame).

With no pretentious psychobabble to distract or simply rehashing old plots, Equilibrium sticks doggedly to its storyline and is bound to please action movie fans.

After World War III it is decided that human nature – or rather human emotions to be specific – are to be blamed for man’s destructive history. This conveniently forgets that the reason for the last major international war (America invading Iraq) was actually about keeping gas-guzzling SUVs on the road. It is however decided to change human nature by putting the entire population on a self-administered drug called Prozium (geddit?) which is designed to eliminate any emotions.

Far easier I’d say to destroy all those ugly, unsafe and polluting SUVs – but I guess people just can’t bring themselves to part with the ungainly beasts. (Is it just me or do they all look like CPU cooler fans on wheels?)

"Still manages to engage despite its lack of originality . . ."

Putting the entire population on Prozac, er sorry, Prozium doesn’t seem to be particularly successful though. There may not be any wars, but the level of violence employed by the fascist dictatorship that administers the drug to its citizens in destroying so-called “sense offenders” (or people who have stopped taking the drug) is high enough to rival any gang skirmish on the streets of L.A.

In fact, the new government led by Big Broth . . . , er sorry Father, actually went to the trouble of devising a new martial art blending gunfight techniques with traditional kung fu and the like called “gun-kata”. This new martial art (it looks like John Woo gunfights on overdrive) is employed by special agents of the government appropriately called “clerics” (they wear long black cloaks similar to those of Keanu Reaves in The Matrix Reloaded).

These “clerics” not only hunt and kill off opponents of the government, but also destroy anything that might elicit any human emotions – cultural artifacts such as Da Vinci paintings, W.B. Yeats poetry collections, Beethoven recordings, tax returns (I just made that last one up – I suppose they still get those).

One of these “clerics” (Bale, now all buffed up after American Psycho and ready to don the action hero mantle left behind by Arnold Schwarzenegger now that he is pursuing a political career) stops taking his medication and soon finds himself in conflict with the same regime which he has been so zealously defending all his life.

As you might have guessed by now, Equilibrium isn’t particularly original. It is The Matrix meets Fahrenheit 451. It plunders a host of sci-fi movies: 1984, Logan’s Run, THX-1138, Robocop, Gattaca, the original 1920s Metropolis – you name it. It even steals outright a famous shot from Blade Runner!

However, none of this really matters because Equilibrium somehow still manages to engage by investing more time in its story and characters than most action movies.

Bale is perfectly cast and his supporting cast does okay too. Having an emotionless society is a brilliant conceit though. It’s a perfect excuse for bad acting: they’re supposed to be wooden because they’re all drugged to the eye balls! It’s a bit like casting Arnie as a robot in The Terminator movies . . . (One niggle though: some of the characters who are supposed to emotionless seemed quite animated at times, banging tables in tantrums, grinning smugly and so forth.)

The action scenes are well choreographed and quite stunning to watch. The plot also throws up some unexpected surprises along the way (one involves a hallowed movie convention that states that no harm shall come to any pets). Equilibrium is a definite crowd pleaser. Besides, as one critic has pointed out: it is difficult to dislike a movie in which the art, poetry and classical music lovers are the heroes . . .


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