Ain't It Cool News Review
Source: Ain't It Cool News
One of the things I love about sites like CHUD and AICN is that we can choose to support a film whether its got a $50 million marketing budget or not. Were not like most magazines or press outlets, where the size of the release mandates the size of the coverage. Instead, its as simple an equation as this: if we like something, we talk about it. If we like something a lot, we talk about it a lot.
So it doesnt surprise me to see Nick Nunziata gettin behind Kurt Wimmers still-unreleased sci-fi action/thinker EQUILIBRIUM, a movie that plays like GATTACA and THE MATRIX got into the Brundlechamber and emerged as some uneasy hybrid. What works is downright awesome, and what doesnt is still pretty good. So why the hell has this been sitting on a shelf since last summer?
The Grammaton Clerics are part religious order, part crime-fighting super unit. Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale) is the best of the best, a hardcore killer who has proven the intensity of his devotion, paying the highest price there is. He gave his own wife up for sense crimes. She stopped taking her Prozium, you see. Prozium is what you take every day, you see. Several times. Everyone has their watch and their little injection gun, and when the alarm goes off, you just put the needle to your neck and SNAP! Instant harmony. Everything is mellow.
Permanently. No highs. No lows. Just a simple moderate passive acceptance. This is the way it has to be. This is because of mans own nature, the nature that led to the third world war. This is because mans nature will inevitably lead to a fourth war, one that may not be possible to survive. The Grammaton Clerics are the ones who make sure that other people dont step out of line. They track down and destroy sense offenders. And as terrible as it is in FAHRENHEIT 451 when they destroy books, this is worse. This is the destruction of everything of any kind that might make you feel or dream or hope or laugh or cry.
Its life with no reason to live it.
John Prestons wife tried to tell him that, but he didnt listen. He just kept up his Prozium, and he made sure his children kept up their Prozium, and he kept going to work every day, enforcing the law, feeling nothing.
You dont have to be a psychic, or even a particularly rabid genre fan, to know where the story is going to go in the broad strokes. Hes going to have some sort of awakening. Hes going to question the world he lives in. Hes going to choose something that goes contrary to his place in society. Hes going to have to fight.
One of my very favorite films is Terry Gilliams BRAZIL. I love the way Sam Lowry is slowly brought into the real world though his encounters with Buttle and Tuttle and Jill and his mother and Mr. Helpmann and Jack Lint. I love the way he finally chooses to fight back by simply retreating into the dream life he has built for himself. EQUILIBRIUM gives us a main character who has a very different reaction when his mask slips a bit and he suddenly sees the world for what it is. Prestons first moment of real discomfort comes when he tracks and kills his own partner, Cleric Partridge, who is played by Sean Bean in a great, soulful cameo. He gives great brood here for the few minutes hes in the film. He and Bale have a very interesting dynamic, very specific. Bean is resigned to the fact that hes a criminal. He knows hes going to be discovered. He knows hes going to be destroyed. The joys of a Keats poem are worth it, though, and he embraces his fate willingly. Hes not strong enough to fight the system, but he is strong enough to remove himself from the game. He knows Preston will kill him for his sense offense, and he doesnt do a thing to stop him.
Not that he could stop him. The first major action scene in the film is a shootout in the dark that is just breathtaking. Its original, a great idea executed to perfection, and in some films, this would be the very best thing you saw. In this film, its a warm-up for what comes later. Christian Bale is utterly convincing as a man who training and sedatives have transformed into a perfectly-balanced weapon, a killing engine that can be pointed at anyone and simply released.
And we get a great indication of that when he shows up for his first major incident in the film. Theres a group of sense criminals holed up in a warehouse where theyve stored some emotional relics, the sort of thing that stirs up their passions. Paintings. Music. Poetry. Anything that challenges you to feel. Bale has the advance team knock out the lights in a room, then knock out the lights in the hallway outside so that when he opens the door and enters the room, theres no silhouette. Theres no anything. Its pitch black. Wimmer stages this entire first sequence in the absolute black of that room, illuminating it only with the muzzle flashes from the two guns that Bale wields with remarkable, almost supernatural precision. He bends his own body in various bizarre contortions as he does so, something we later learn is part of the training for the Clerics. Theyve figured out the mathematical possibility of combat, and they put themselves in the least statistically possible place to be hit at each moment of a fight, so hes not just posing so it looks cool. Hes simply outmaneuvering every shot fired at him, even as he picks off the people in the room based on where their shots are fired from. Its a startling burst of kinetic violence, original in concept and execution, and its not the best moment in the film. Not by a long shot. And when you see this scene, and you lose your mind... and if youre a self-respecting action geek on any level, you WILL lose your mind... then I want you to remember I said that. What you just saw is not the best scene in the film. Or the second best. Or even the fourth best.
Thats what sort of ass-kicking youre in for.
I think EQUILIBRIUMs got weaknesses.
I think theres a strange sort of narrative hiccup in act
two where Bales character just sort of square-dances in
place for a while. But a lot of that is because Wimmer seems determined
to give Bale room to play, and the results of that can be so striking
that Im willing to overlook anything I dont think
works. Bale goes through his own awakening over the course of
the film, encouraged by supporting players like William Fichtner
(interesting, as always) and Emily Watson (strikingly shot for
the second time this year, and playing a similarly underwritten
role), and there are a few highlights along the way. In particular,
theres a scene involving a Beethoven record that I thought
was very touchingly etched by both Bale and Wimmer, and an action
scene centered around a dog that is just stunning.
EQUILIBRIUMs not a wildly expensive film, and it shows in some of the establishing shots of this bleak futurescape. Still, I like the design. Even though things dont look real at every point, theres a very clean and sterile look to the world that works to help make the point. This place has been leeched of everything worthwhile, and its all at the will of Father, societys benevolent dictator who speaks only by hologram. The Master Cleric (THE CRADLE WILL ROCKs Angus MacFadyen) is Fathers spokesman, the one who speaks directly to the rest of the order, and he and Bale have the most directly antagonistic relationship in the film. Theres a young Cleric (Taye Diggs) who believes that Bale is breaking down and starting to feel, and hes determined to catch him at it. Their relationship is overplayed, mostly on Tayes end of things, but it pays off in one of the coolest action beats in the whole film, so again... Ill take the bad with the good.
I cant praise the film as an action
movie without specifically praising the people who managed to
build the action. Tom Rolf was one of the editors of HEAT, a film
that I thought had supercharged action sequences, and EQUILIBRIUM
hits an equally high mark. Dion Beebe, the cinematographer of
the film, is also responsible for CHICAGO this Christmas, and
the work Ive seen on that film is incredible. Beebe seems
to be especially good at recording motion in a way that allows
us to see the full range of that motion with crystal clarity.
People who complain that they cant follow most action scenes
because of rapid cutting are going to glow with an inner peace
after seeing these scenes, where each cut, each motion, each new
beat of the scene, all seems to be one long, liquid, incredibly
communicative thing that you not only follow, but that you get
sucked into. You feel these action scenes. Mr. Beaks described
this as gun-fu, and Nick at CHUD described it as gun-kata.
Both terms sound about right. Its martial arts, basically,
with guns used not only to fire bullets, but also used as extensions
of the fighter. There is some swordplay here, too, but what idiot
brings a knife to a gunfight? Bale (and what Im sure must
be a team of stunt people) proves to be quite expert with whatever
he picks up, so each scene is different, charged with the energy
of this particular foe or that particular tight corner.
Overall, I think this is a tricky film to sell. I think Nov. 8th and December 6th, the two dates Ive heard mentioned so far, both suck. You blew it with BELOW, Dimension. Dont kill this film, too. Hold it until the spring. Find a two-week window in March or April where no one else has an action film coming out. Cut the trailer you need to cut... the trailer you know you can cut with the amazing footage you have to choose from here... and start selling this film. Kurt Wimmer started his career writing movies for the Barbarian Brothers (DOUBLE TROUBLE) and directing Brian Bosworth (ONE TOUGH BASTARD), and hes written a few studio movies, including one that I quite liked, the John McTiernan remake of THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR. This film serves as an announcement, though, that whatever he did before was a warm up. Hes ready to step up and start making some serious science-fiction action films. Studios would do well to start figuring out what theyre going to do with this guy, because its only a matter of time before he connects with something and makes his own MATRIX, his own TERMINATOR 2. Hes got that good an eye for this stuff. Im still mystified as to why Betty Thomas is making THE STARS MY DESTINATION for Fox. I mean, I saw I SPY, and as amiable as it is, its no EQUILIBRIUM when it comes to delivering hard, stylish, cold-blooded action. This one is a reminder of what it is that makes us genre fans in the first place.
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