review by Cynthia
Fuchs, 20 December 2002
future looks grim and preposterous in Kurt Wimmer's Equilibrium.
The U.S. went to war with Iraq and started WWIII, which led to all
commerce and government going to hell (who knew?). In order to
combat ongoing chaos, a new regime -- orchestrated via TV
appearances by a gray-haired fellow named "Father" -- has
outlawed all displays of feelings. Thank goodness that the totally
cut Christian Bale gets in touch with his Inner Keanu and saves the
world for all who want to express themselves freely. Hooray for
kicking opponents' heads in, fancy wirework, and twirling black
topcoats -- emoting at its best.
there's a bit of movie tedium to endure before this gonzo payoff.
That is, before Bale's character, the dismally named Clerick John
Preston, comes to his senses, he's a dedicated member of Team
Oppressive. Here that's a generically fascistic government ruling
Libria, a city full of massive Mussolini-style architecture. So
here's the basic illogic of this system: Father's spokesperson,
Master Clerick (Angus MacFadyen), rallies his agents to kill
"sense offenders" by damning the "disease" of
human emotion with a thunderously emotional display. Apparently
Father & Co. have forgotten the Nazis were damn passionate about
Clericks spend their time rounding up and killing hundreds of
"resistance" fighters during night sweeps of the dark and
poverty-stricken sections of the city. (Killing to stop the killing
-- the illogic would be laughable if it weren't so like the logic
behind the pitches for "Iraq Attack.") The primary means
of maintaining emotional "equilibrium" is to medicate the
entire population; every morning John and his two young children pop
Prozium II pills, and every morning John's Children-of-the-Cornish
son quizzes his father, as if to catch him out in some show of
efforts to stay cool stem from personal experience -- his own wife
was found out as one of those offenders some time ago, and was
hauled out of the house, in front of their young children and John.
As they huddle in the hallway and wifey begs him to remember her, he
stands by in the (routine) flashback scene, "emotionless,"
devoted to his duty and the rightness of the cause.
ardent is John that he thinks nothing of torching the Mona Lisa
(apparently the most recognizable bit of "art" the
filmmakers could concoct to make the point) when he finds it hidden
beneath some floorboards. He takes a certain pride -- not emotional,
but professional -- in his physical perfection, capacity for cruel
and efficient violence, and ability to ferret out emotional
"whiffs" from anyone. Predictably, he comes to a series of
crossroads (the earlier execution of the Mrs. was apparently not
one), the first involving his partner, the pensive Partridge (Sean
Bean). John discovers Partridge illegally reading Yeats (confiscated
"evidence" that he kept for himself), late at night in the
destitute part of town. Poetically, he shoots Partridge through the
book he's holding up to his face.
frenzied metaphors almost save Equilibrium from being this
season's Impostor, that is, the latest undercooked Phillip K.
Dick-based flick. Since Blade Runner, the once prescient Dick
has been a source of timely material for filmmakers looking to
underline -- from a science-fictionish distance -- the danger of
police states, wartime hysterias, and ultra-conformity. Equilibrium
recalls Blade Runner and Minority Report, of course,
as well as Gattaca, THX-1138, The Matrix, and
George Orwell. Though Equilibrium achieves some admirably
campy excess in the fight scenes (the hyperkinetic image of Patrick
Bateman channeling Neo is oddly irresistible), most of its deriving
and homaging never extends beyond the obvious.
there's some plot to be handled at this surface level: John is
assigned a new partner, the viciously -- er, dispassionately --
striving Clerick Brandt (Taye Diggs). As he begins to ponder
Partridge's interest in the book (and even recall his own wife's
demise), John is apparently distracted enough that he doesn't notice
that Brandt is another version of his previous self. This despite
the fact that Brandt mentions their resemblance and his desire to be
just like John more than once. Easily their most entertaining
encounter occurs in the gym, where they're working out
neo-macho-man-style. At this point, you can imagine why either of
them signed on for this project -- such intensity, such jaw-jutting
and teeth-gritting, must be rare in scripts these days.
as John and Brandt plainly have a need for one another, John further
jeopardizes their partnership, his career, and his life when he
stops taking his pills (hiding them in the wall behind his bathroom
cabinet -- could this superstar stealth agent have picked a less
clever hiding place?). Without his meds, jeez, suddenly everything
looks different. John has an increasingly hard time slaughtering
resistance fighters, he's nice to a puppy, and he falls for a sense
offender taken prisoner, Mary O'Brien (Emily Watson), whose perfume
bottle intoxicates him. When he visits her in prison, under the
pretense of interrogating her, their mutual attraction evolves
soap-operatically, though what she sees in this jackbooted bully is
less fathomable than his fetishizing of her red hair ribbon.
emotion -- the abstract enemy -- becomes concrete. John starts
feeling everything -- fingering Mary's gewgaws while supposedly
searching her apartment for contraband. He gets woozy. The very
objectness of the objects overwhelms him. He might as well be
slapping his forehead with astonishment: so this is what all
the hubbub is about! He turns this discovery back around into a
rationale for exactly what he was trained to do -- kill squadrons of
assailants with moves faster than the eye can see, accompanied by an
exhilarating dance track. Emotion or not-emotion: it all looks the
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult