Set in the near future, Equilibrium posits a future where the prospect of war has been averted by eradicating human emotions. This is done not only be a drug known as Prozium, but also by an elite branch of the police force known as the Grammaton Clerics. The clerics serve the public by destroying great works of art and little puppies alike, all in the aim of the greater good. The new society created by the Father (Sean Pertwee) appears to working until the top cleric (Christian Bale) decides to stop taking his medication...
If you’re well versed in science fiction literature, you will have immediately picked up on the two main reference points here: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Yet Equilibrium proves to be a lot less than the sum of its parts; where those novels passed comment on Socialism and McCarthyism respectively, writer/director Kurt Wimmer declares on his solo commentary track that his film tackles that big issue of the day: numbness(!).
Not content with cribbing his ideas from these literary greats, Wimmer also makes a few visual steals from Blade Runner, Gattaca, Triumph of the Will and Metropolis amongst many others. Of course, the problem with this is that the film consistently seems second-hand. Luckily, the director does have one clever visual trick up his sleeve: “gunkata”.
Created in his back garden, Wimmer’s gunkata concept revolves around the idea that all possible gunfire trajectories can be predicted, allowing a single gunman to wipe out a whole load of adversaries whilst pretty much standing on the spot. Approaching these scenes with a keen sense of style, the action proves a welcome relief from the numerous John Woo and “bullet-time” rip-offs currently proliferating in mainstream cinema. Indeed, the Matrix reference is fitting as not only do the scenes strongly recall ...Reloaded’s multi-Agent Smith fight scene, but it also emphasises the fact that Equilibrium has very little to offer apart from some gob-smacking action; with The Matrix it always seemed that the major set-pieces were part of the bigger picture, not something put there simply to alleviate the boredom.
The main struggle that Equilibrium faces is with its central concept. Because everyone is so emotionless, any potential drama is undercut. As Wim Wenders’ once famously said “motion is emotion”, and Wimmer has essentially shot himself in the foot here. Moreover, he’s been offered some terrific actors to play out his script. Whilst Christian Bale shines in a role not too distant from American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, the rest of the largely British cast are reduced to extended cameos. Take, for example, Emily Watson; one of the most consistently watchable actresses of recent years, here she gets little more than three key scenes - and ones that hardly stretch her talents. Likewise, David Hemmings is allowed just two lines of dialogue before disappearing from the film, and this is the man who starred in Blow Up! (Let alone some wonderful scene-stealing performances in the likes of Gladiator and Spy Game.) In fact, the only other actor who does make an impression is young Matthew Harbour. Playing Bale’s son, this must be the most truly terrifying performance by a child actor since all those miniature Hitler’s that populated the splendidly stupid The Boys From Brazil.
Equilibrium also proves frustrating insofar as it raises some interesting ideas, but doesn’t have the conviction to see them through. One of the film’s most interesting aspects is its play on the ever-reliable theme of police corruption. As the film is set in a future where the things we take for granted are exactly what is being eradicated, Bale’s “corruption” from good guy to bad guy within the society of the film could have allowed for some interesting perspectives to be seen, especially at a time when Denzel Washington wins the best actor Academy Award for playing such a role in Training Day and The Shield is gaining a sizeable audience on television,. Yet Wimmer seems more content to simply recycle ideas that have been done many times before without attempting to add even a dash of originality.
Picture and Sound
Momentum have provided Equilibrium with both flawless visuals and audio. Dion Beebe’s cinematography, which relies heavily on a muted colour palette, looks fantastic, and the 5.1 mix serves as a perfect accompaniment to Wimmer’s gunkata mayhem. A 2.0 option is also available, and likewise sounds fine, though for those with 5.1 capabilities, that is the one to go for.
Apart from the usual batch of trailers and TV spots, the disc also offers a brief featurette. Encompassing interviews with Wimmer and the main players, the discussion mainly turns to fight scenes. Barely breaking the four minute mark, this is for the most part the usual electronic press kit waffle, though Angus Macfadyen’s assertion that the film is “buddhistic” is intriguing to say the least.
The main selling points are the two commentaries. The first is a solo offering from Wimmer, in which he ably discusses the budget limitations of his first feature, as well as pointing out what he feels are the flaws. He also spends some time admitting to the various plagiarisms, though makes little mention of the poor critical response; his argument boils down to “this movie isn’t for cynics”. Sadly, despite his initial burst of enthusiasm, he gradually runs of out of things to say and even concludes his talk before the film has finished.
This proves to be frustrated when the second commentary, which is conducted by Wimmer and producer Lucas Foster, covers much the same ground. Surely, it would have been beneficial to have combined the two, making for a more rewarding listen.
Despite an excellent presentation, Equilibrium still struggles with the fact that it is so limited. Whilst it’s worth considering that this was the director’s first effort behind the camera, it’s also true that without the action scenes the film would be little more than Channel Five filler. Indeed, the four out of ten rating is based almost solely on these sequences.