Equilibrium - Review - IGN

Source: IGN
28 April 2003

While far from sci-fi gold, this dystopian action film features some amazing
gun battles and rock-solid direction.

Books like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 have always rubbed me the wrong way.
Maybe it's because, as a relatively comfortable American living in a solid
democracy, I have a hard time conceiving of worlds where the enjoyment
and creation of art and right to privacy are anything but guaranteed. So
when a film/book/television show like Equilibrium comes along that shows
a future world where these luxuries are verboten, I have a difficult time
buying the premise even though I am aware that history provides a much
different lesson. I am also aware that this personal bias will definitely
show up in a review but I think it's necessary to disclose my feelings
on these fictional dystopian worlds.
 
Having said that, Equilibrium managed to blast past that ingrown prejudice
and plunk me into a believable reality, especially since Equilibrium deals not
with improbable governments and social systems but rather the tricky and
eerie world of psychotropic medications. While a sanitized world like
Demolition Man seems an extremely unlikely outgrowth of government,
Equilibrium's drug-driven happyland seems not only probable but an extreme
natural progression of what would happen if government ever got together
with pharmaceuticals in a meaningful and serious way.
 
The Movie
After World War III (a war caused by man's "emotional" unbalance), a new
society arises from the ashes. It is a world where emotion (or "sense
violations") are outlawed and punishable by immediate execution. To keep
everything in check, residents within the walled city are given five daily doses
(Mecca anyone?), or intervals, of an emotion-blocking drug called Prozium.
Sense violations, which occur primarily outside the city walls, are enforced by
Clerics of the Tetragrammatron, aka "Father." Christian Bale plays John Preston,
the highest-ranking Cleric who is both a brutal executioner and practitioner of
Gun Kata (more on that later). Preston misses a dose one morning and his
chemically-muted reality starts to crumble.
 
As more and more of his manufactured reality comes apart, Preston eventually
finds the "underground" where he is recruited to help bring down the system.
As his partner Brandt (Taye Diggs) becomes more and more suspicious,
Preston must deal with his flood of emotions, the death of his wife, and the
imminent execution of a sense offender named Mary (Emily Watson) whom
he arrested.
 
For the most part, Equilibrium is basically an effective and mostly enjoyable
flick. It's not, however, without its share of problems. Parts of it are
laboriously long and boring. You have to buy into the completeness of the
whole emotion-blocking premise fairly early in the film or else various plot
points crumble. Also, for an action movie, the film could definitely use a
little more ... action. Sean Bean and Emily Watson (two immensely
watchable actors) are also way underused. Finally, some of the futuristic
concepts/sequences of the film are tired and derivative.
 
Still, what Equilibrium will likely be remembered for is some innovative
cinematography and something called Gun Kata, a form of martial arts
created by filmmaker Kurt Wimmer. In Gun Kata, the practitioner of the
art uses guns as an extension of controlled bursts of acrobatics. The
theory being that each gun-battle only has limited outcomes and by
applying a series of angles and probability factors to potential foes,
one can win any shootout. The sequences are excellently conceived
and very exciting to watch.

One can't end a review of the film without talking about its star
Christian Bale. Bale is completely convincing as Cleric John Preston.
He is wooden and stiff but that's precisely what is called for in his
character. When he does have the opportunity to emote, he does
so with perfection and control. Additionally his physical prowess and
mastery of certain elements of Gun Kata are perfect.
 
All in all, Equilibrium offers a decent way to kill an afternoon. While
some of the plot points are stilted and stale, the film more than makes
up for it with some amazingly choreographed battles, a convincing
future world, and a great performance by Christian Bale.
7 out of 10

The Video
The primary color palette for Equilibrium is gray. By extension, it is full of
grays, whites, and blacks to the point of being a muted visual feast. While
The Matrix had its green, Minority Report had its bluish-gray, Equilibrium is
definitely gray. The video quality of this flick is awesome. As you might
expect, the black levels are perfect. When color does finally creep into the
mix (as it does when Bale's character "wakes up"), it is a welcome sight
and further underscores the totality of the gray throughout the flick. I
noticed very little in the way of the usual video detractions and can
recommend this one as a potential reference disk. Not bad for a $20
million budget with three name actors.
9 out of 10
 
The Audio
Wow.
Big bass is the word here. Big bass mixed with an amazing spectrum for
the rears and surrounds as well. Certain sequences are so full of pinging,
zipping bullets and ricochets that I had to pop up from the couch and
replay them immediately ... and I am hard to get off the couch (except
when my remote is out of batteries). Anyway, the dialogue is appropriately
to the center and big whomps are heard throughout the film. It's an active
and aggressive mix, one that definitely hits its mark.
9 out of 10

The Extras
For a film that breezed in and out of theaters with so little fanfare,
the extras content is about what you'd expect. There are theatrical trailers
for Below, Kill Bill, Invincible and Wes Craven Presents Dracula II:
Ascension. There is also a sizzle reel for Dimension Home Video.
 
"Finding Equilibrium" is a four and a half minute bit about the making of
the film featuring on-set footage and comments from Christian Bale,
Taye Diggs, Kurt Wimmer, and Angus MacFayden.
 
The meat of the extras content is two commentaries: one by Writer-Director
Kurt Wimmer and the other with Wimmer and Producer Lucas Foster.
Wimmer solo was more interesting to me than with Foster. He was
happy to point out the limitations of his budget. He acknowledged
criticism and commentary from people who had seen the film and also
reminisced about shots he would've liked to see turn out differently.
Along with Foster's commentary, we get some additional tidbits about
shooting in Berlin, the benefits of working with Christian Bale, and the
challenges of dealing with rapidly growing puppies.
6 out of 10

Overall impression: Equilibrium is an interesting film. The plot has
basically already been forgotten. What stands out in this film are the
amazing action sequences, the innovative use of gray and black, and the
performance by Christian Bale. It's worth picking up from an audio and
video quality perspective though I bet you'll ultimately find out which
chapters have the good sequences in them and wear them out. Kurt
Wimmer is someone worth watching. If he can infuse his next project
with the energy and visual mastery exhibited here, he will be a talent indeed.
-- Steven Horn




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