The Good: Decent character arc, Good acting, Good plot, Most of the special effects
The Bad: Moments of predictability, Lack of realism for special effects in the combat scenes.
The Basics: The natural extension to Brazil, Equilibrium is a stylish, cool, story of one man who turns against his emotionless existence to free the enslaved humanity.
When it comes to truly great films, there are few that hold a candle to Brazil (reviewed here!). That said, even I have to admit that cinematic storytelling has come a long way since Terry Gilliam created his movie masterpiece. There is something rather amusing to me about the fact that it took until today for me to find one of the films that actually gives Brazil a thematic run-for-its-money: Equilibrium.
Equilibrium is a dystopian action film that is incredibly close to perfect. In fact, were it not for what I thought initially was poor acting from Angus Macfadyen actually telegraphs the film’s climax in a troubling way. Between that and a lack of realistic blood spray, of a magnitude not seen since 28 Days Later (reviewed later!) where blood was everywhere but somehow does not infect the protagonists, Equilibrium is taken down just a notch . . . but it is still very much worth watching. While writer and director Kurt Wimmer deserves a lot of credit for all he accomplished with an impressive cast in Equilibrium, had Quentin Tarantino directed Equilibrium with his characteristic penchant for blood, it might well have been perfect. Indeed, there are a number of stylistic similarities between Equilibrium and Kill Bill, Volume 1 (reviewed here!) and The Matrix (reviewed here!).
Decades after World War III has devastated Earth, the survivors of the nuclear holocaust live in Libria, a walled-up city where they have renounced all emotion. The society that has been produced seeks to eliminate anger and other emotions by regulating the citizens through the drug Prozium II. Enforcing the laws are Grammaton Clerics, emotionless police officers responsible for destroying the last remaining vestiges of art and culture from before the War . . . and the offenders who have been rescuing them for years. John Preston is one of the best, most efficient, Grammaton Clerics and after he and his partner, Partridge, destroy a cache of artwork in the Nethers (outside the walls), Preston realizes that his partner is experiencing emotions. Killing him, Preston is brought to his superior, Dupont. Dupont charges Preston with hunting down the last remaining rebels against ordered society.
Now paired with Brandt, an ambitious young Cleric, Preston goes hunting for rebels. He captures Mary O’Brien, whom he learns actually had a connection with Partridge. After Preston misses a single dose of his emotion-inhibiting drug, he begins to question his place in society. He starts to feel emotions and becomes protective of Mary. He plays a hunch and manages to find the rebel hideout. Exposed to the controller of Libria and menaced by his own son, Preston must choose to become the agent of change or enforce the unnatural laws of the new society.
Equilibrium is very much like V For Vendetta (reviewed here!) but it does not make its rhetoric as explicit. The world created by Kurt Wimmer is dark and starts with an essential premise that is audacious, but not entirely improbable. For sure, one might think that if a drug was being used to control human emotion and society that it would be one that would build-up in one’s system so if they missed a single injection they would not lose all their control.
Despite the main character reversal surrounding the identity of Father, the controller of Libria, Equilibrium is actually unpredictable and rendered in an impressive way. The film slowly erodes the control of John Preston, making him a compelling protagonist that one truly empathizes with. Preston lives in fear of his own son and he has to keep even that emotion in check. The film hinges on Preston’s ability to appear unemotional while his control breaks down and he finds something compelling in emotions. That Preston does not suddenly turn against all that he has built makes for a realistic story that fits within the world in which he is trapped.
In fact, all that is not terribly realistic about the dark, controlled world of Equilibrium is how bloodless the combats are. As well, the combat and human endurance represented by the characters’ continued participation in such exerting exercises is more stylish than realistic. That keeps Equilibrium entertaining at the very least. The film has a good flow and some of the reversals are truly surprising. The final combat scene, which is essentially a sword fight with pistols is exceptionally entertaining and well-paced.
On the acting front, Equilibrium is a great use of established talents. While Christian Bale has long illustrated the ability to portray characters who are emotionally-restrained, Emily Watson, who usually plays stoic or emotionally-awkward characters represents the emotionally-free Mary O’Brien and she plays the part perfectly. Taye Diggs smiles a bit much for Brandt to be truly realistic in the world of Equilibrium, but Angus Macfadyen’s smarmy Dupont makes for an interesting foil for Bale’s Preston. Matthew Harbour is eerie as Robbie Preston and that he keeps Christian Bale in place is pretty impressive.
Equlibrium is a smart, fast-paced film that accomplishes what most dystopian science fiction films today fail to do. It is worth hunting down and sharing.
For other works with Sean Bean, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Game Of Thrones - Season 1
The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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