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Equilibrium


Sci-Fi Slob - Thanks for the awesome certification. As I alluded to last night however I'm pretty sure you won't be as positive about this review.

This is one of those old personal favourites that I will periodically be revisiting this year to check if they are worthy of my new top 100 list or not.



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Year of release
2002

Directed by
Kurt Wimmer

Written by
Kurt Wimmer

Starring
Christian Bale
Emily Watson
Taye Diggs
Angus Macfayden
William Fichtner
Sean Bean


Equilibrium

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Plot - In a futuristic world, a strict regime has eliminated war by suppressing emotions: books, art and music are strictly forbidden and feeling is a crime punishable by death. Cleric John Preston (Bale) is a top ranking government agent responsible for destroying those who resist the rules. When he misses a dose of Prozium, a mind-altering drug that hinders emotion, Preston, who has been trained to enforce the strict laws of the new regime, suddenly becomes the only person capable of overthrowing it.

In Robert Altman's The Player, Tim Robbins played the character of Griffin Mills, a big time studio executive. A running joke throughout the film are the ridiculous pitches that he has to listen to, delivered to him in the form of 'meets.' So Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate, Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman etc. Well I think I can sum up Equilibrium quite succinctly in a similar fashion - The Lives of Others meets The Matrix. Those might seem like quite disparate films but Equilibrium manages to bring both of them together to create its own individual experience. As with The Lives of Others, Equilibrium details the life of a man; in this case Christian Bale's John Preston, who is regarded as a superior agent for a highly fascist state. His job is to spy on and weed out people who are acting against the interests of the government, in this instance this means people who are experiencing emotions. While it wasn't as strict a line as that in The Lives of Others, both societies were prohibited from endorsing in artistic expression, whether it be in the form of literature, artwork, music etc. By removing that which would stimulate the mind and soul it was hoped that the people could be kept in check. In both films however the protagonist slowly becomes drawn into the world which he has previously been tasked with destroying. Both men get a taste of culture and become intoxicated by it, highlighting the power of art. While from The Matrix, the film has imported the vibe of science fiction and action. Both films share a similar attitude towards action, delivering some hyper-stylised and thrilling sequences which defy both belief and logic. Even the Clerics that populate the world of Equilibrium have a whiff of the Matrix's Agents about them. Both groups of individuals have been tasked with enforcing the regime that has been put in place, both are emotionless killing machines, both are uniformly dressed in an imposing fashion and both possess an almost supernatural level of fighting ability.

Of course I could just have gone with a more direct source and noted how similar it was to many dystopian tales that have appeared over the years both on the page and the screen; 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 for example. But what can I say, I had a direction I wanted to take the review in. Of course outside of the literary world it's easy to see inspiration for the story in real life. You could tie it into pretty much every fascist regime that has ever existed, however the easiest link would certainly be to Nazi Germany. Alongside the oppressive attitude and ominously uniformed officers, you obviously have the destruction of artwork, most notably the burning of books. Hell even the official emblem of Libria which can be seen on its flags is damn close to being a swastika just turned slightly on its side. While if you wanted to link it to a more modern day issue I suppose you could also see society's reliance on the Prozium to control their emotions as a commentary on the over medicating nature of our current society.

I've got to admit to not really been a great fan of Christian Bale but I think the nature of his character in Equilibrium means that he his put to very good use. His naturally stern intensity and frequent monosyllabic manner means that he is a prime fit for this world of stilted emotions. And once Preston begins to experience the emotions I think he does a nice job at conveying this and the power that they have on him. They really do hit him hard. When he is listening to an old vinyl album of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony you can see the impact it has on him for someone who has never felt anything before. And at the moment when he revisits the footage of his own wife's execution we can see the sheer horror on his face, not so much at the execution itself but at his own indifference and inactivity to it at the time. Though the thing that really alters Preston's way of thinking, and ultimately feeling? An adorable little dog. One of the sweeper teams finds a group of dogs and begins to destroy them one by one. Horrified by what is happening, Preston rescues one of the dogs and proceeds to risk his life for it. And really if you're going to risk your life for anything in this world, what better than a little dog?

Film Trivia Snippets - Equilibrium only made a rather miserable $1.2 million at the US box office, but it had a unique excuse – it was too successful! The film was actually denied a wide release when it made it to the United States. The reason for this was that it had already been released overseas and had already generated a profit. So Miramax then didn't want to risk turning a money-making film into a loss, meaning that they cut their outlay in terms of promotion and released it in just 301 cinemas. /// Eagle-eyed viewers may spot the fact that Preston's wife is actually played by two different actresses. The archive footage of her execution was filmed first and featured Alexa Summer in the role. When it came time to shoot the scene in which she was originally arrested however, she could not be found. As a result they had to hire another actress, Maria Pia Calzone, to take her place. So even though they are playing the same character in the closing credits there are two separate credits. Alexa Summer is credited as 'Viviana Preston', while Maria Pia Calzone was credited as 'Preston's Wife.' /// Originally Prozium, the drug that is used to suppress emotions, was actually named Librium in association with the state of Libria. However Librium turned out to be a real drug, the trade name for the anti-anxiety drug chlordiazepoxide. This necessitated a quick change to Prozium, a sly combination of Prozac and Valium, both of which have calming effects. /// Christian Bale's character of John Preston amasses a kill total of 118 characters, exactly half of the movie's 236 deaths. As of 2009, John Preston was in 3rd place in terms of the number of deaths caused by a single character. /// The puppy that was used in the film and which made such a vital contribution was a Bernese Mountain dog. Throughout the film we hear it barking, whining and yelping. However none of those noises were made by the actual dog. Instead they were made by an actor who specialises in dog impersonations. /// The unique martial arts style incorporating gunfighting that features in Equilibrium was created by its writer and director Kurt Wimmer in his backyard.
The one area where Equilibrium really does carve out a rather unique little niche for itself is in the action. It has actually created its own original form of combat called Gun Kata. It is a form of martial arts which incorporates the use of a gun as part of its discipline. The main premise behind it is that the trajectories of bullets during a gunfight can be calculated and therefore predicted depending on the locations of his opponents. This means the practitioner of the art can fire at the most likely locations of the individuals without having to aim, and that they will also know the most likely lines of return fire so that they can avoid them. It tries to explain and justify it by applying physics to it, but basically it's a load of cobblers! However it does allow for some terrifically exciting and intricate fight scenes, wonderfully executed by fight choreographer Jim Vickers. Taking place in extremely close quarters and unfolding at lightning speeds they tend to evoke something of the elaborate Jackie Chan style. While there is certainly also a touch of John Woo flair to the gunplay with very dramatic and exaggerated action and movements. In fact there's one moment that I'm sure Woo may have utilised before, or at the very least I can imagine him doing it. Bale's Preston is faced with a hallway full of goons. Before starting out on his rampage he tosses two magazines of ammunition on to the floor in the middle of the room. He proceeds to take out a bunch of the goons, running out of ammo exactly as he arrives at the clips which allows him to reload instantly.

I'm certainly not oblivious to the numerous flaws that pepper Equilibrium. For a world where emotions have been removed, many of the performers aare really quite...well, emotional. The guiltiest party in this respect is most certainly Taye Diggs. Portraying Andrew Brandt, a fellow Cleric and Preston's partner, Diggs sneers and smirks his way through proceedings, his character taking quite the apparent glee in his duty. And while part of it turns out to be an act to entrap Preston he also appears really quite prone to bursts of anger. I suppose this could be explained away if it transpired that Brandt, like DuPont, had stopped taking the Prozium. That facet which can be seen as a commentary on how tyrants frequently break the own rules that they are imposing on the populus. But either way the obvious displays of emotion do still hurt the film. I don't really know where the blame lies, whether it was born out of the script or whether it just developed on the set. While it would be easy to blame Diggs for this element in his character you would really have to ask questions of Kurt Wimmer in terms of his handling of Diggs' performance. There are also a couple of quite sizeable holes in its story. Once Preston has stopped taking Prozium and allowed emotions to enter into his life the film completely ignores his home life and how he hides this change. We don't see how he acts around his kids and how he keeps from arousing their suspicion, nor do we see how he actually hides and takes care of the little dog that he has adopted. It's quite a glaring omission. Speaking of glaring omissions there is a massive error in the film. To frame Brandt for murder Preston swaps his government-issued gun with his so that it was Brandt's gun he used for the killing. Except that the switch actually comes after he had already killed them. The reason this occurred was that during editing the narrative was shuffled in an attempt to improve the pacing. This did however mean that it didn't make a damn bit of since, but Kurt Wimmer decided to let the plot hole slide.

The film makes quite nice use of set design, colour and lighting to help tell its story. The domains of the Tetragrammaton Council are vast, soulless locations draped in all fifty of E.L. James' shades of grey. While the streets of Libria are about as drab and lifeless as you could possibly imagine. This is contrasted by the sanctuaries of emotion that we come across, the hidden retreats of those that have chosen to embrace art and feeling. Jam packed with knick knacks and relics of a bygone time they just ooze a charm and a character that is completely absent from the rest of the world. While perhaps not completely absent. The office of DuPont has touches of artistic expression in the form of statues and art, hinting at his true nature. Another device to highlight the differences is the way in which the people who have freed themselves from the oppressive regime, and the places they reside in are much more colourful, with the people bathed in a warm and rich glow. This is particularly true of Emily Watson's character and Preston's wife. Such touches are also used to highlight the change in Preston's character. Clothed all in black for the large majority of the film, when the time comes for the final showdown he reverts to an all white attire, showing the enlightenment he has attained through opening himself up to his emotions. And at the film's conclusion the last shot sees Preston looking out over the city he has fought to free, and having spent so much time in the darkness and the shadows, his face is now bathed in brilliant sunshine.

Conclusion - I have no problem acknowledging that Equilibrium is a flawed film. It takes nearly all of its ideas from films and books that are superior to it, and it is almost bereft of any originality whatsoever....but it's just so cool and shiny! Having been released in its shadow it is often compared unfavourably with The Matrix, and while it may pale in comparison it's a damn fine and immensely entertaining film in its own right. And come on, who couldn't love a film which features a guy's face slowly sliding off his head after getting it sliced by a katana?