Bursting at the seams with style, coolness, and balls out action, Kurt Wimmer’s 2002 film “Equilibrium” defies logic (but probably not Hollywood logic, if such a thing exists) by not getting a bigger theatrical run. Written and directed by Wimmer (“The Recruit”), “Equilibrium” re-visits the Perfect But Fascist Society of the Future that Hollywood enjoys visiting so much. Like Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”, Andrew Niccol’s “Gattaca”, and George Orwell’s “1984″, the world of “Equilibrium” has all but outlawed civil liberties and it’s up to a small but persistent band of Harry Tuttle-wannabes to buck the system and save the day.
As you can probably guess, I don’t particularly find the plot of “Equilibrium” to be all that encouraging. The sterile environment of the Perfect But Fascist Society of the Future has been done to death and its popularity can be blamed on the Wastelands of the Future movies that cropped up during the post-apocalyptic movie boom of the ’80s. (See “Deathlands”). Apparently in the future the world can only exist in two forms: gone to hell, or is hell on Earth. It goes without saying that I find the lack of a variety in futuristic films to be a tad bothersome.
In any case, “Equilibrium” stars Christian Bale (“Reign of Fire”) as Preston, a member of an elite organization called the Clerics that are assigned to eradicate all evidence of “feeling” in the world. It is the near future (but not too far into the future, because people still drive Ford sedans), and the world has just crawled out of World War III (although it looks remarkably healthy). The rulers of our Perfect But Fascist Society of the Future have decided that the reason for war was that people relied too much on their feelings, and thus, feelings must be outlawed. (If you haven’t guessed, this is a Feel Good Liberal’s way of saying that a world based solely on Logical Thinking (i.e. not Feel Good Liberalism) is EEE-vil.)
Problems arise when Preston, the Cleric’s best killer, forgets to take drugs that suppress feelings. The entire society is so heavily medicated by this drug that the scene is reminiscent of the underground workers of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”. For those of you without proper movie I.Q., just recall the automaton conditions of “Brazil”; or for those of you really lacking movie I.Q., the recent but wholly cheesy “The Breed”. Not surprisingly, Nazi symbolism abound. (Which leads me to this point: I really wish people would stop making such overt parallels to Nazism. Oh, subtlety, where have ye gone?)
Once Preston’s feelings begin to kick back in, the Cleric rebels. He’s aided by Emily Watson (“Red Dragon”) as a “sense offender”, but has to contend with Taye Diggs (“Chicago”), his suspicious Cleric partner. I would like to say that “Equilibrium” is a very excellent movie even though one can’t seem to shake that strong been-there done-that vibe. The movie is greatly boosted by the tour de force performance of Bale, who is an amazing physical specimen as the top dog Cleric with the killing skills of a machine. Every time Preston breaks out into action, the movie becomes the epitome of hyperbolic violence coolness.
Adding to the appeal of “Equilibrium” is its creation of a form of “gun kata”, where the use of a gun becomes as dangerous a martial arts as the use of the hands and feet. The Clerics are all trained in this martial arts that allows them to kill multiple opponents at once using not only their speed and agility, but by knowing the habits of an average gunman. As a result, the Clerics use their weapons like swords, slashing and firing in a frenzy of death and bullets. If John Woo invented gun fu, then Kurt Wimmer has invented gun kata.
While watching “Equilibrium”, I was nagged by a couple of inconsistencies in Wimmer’s writing. For example, if feelings are supposed to be outlawed and the Clerics are supposed to be completely without feelings, then why does Taye Diggs’ character show paranoia, pride, ego, ambition, and on more than one occasion, vanity? Maybe Wimmer just failed to relate to Diggs the nuances of a society that outlaws feelings. Or perhaps like the great “Father” of our Perfect but Fascist Society of the Future, Diggs’ character is in fact secretly feeling unbeknownst to everyone else.
Then again, considering Kurt Wimmer’s lack of ability in employing subtlety, that last statement seems a bit, shall we say, illogical.
Kurt Wimmer (director) / Kurt Wimmer (screenplay)
CAST: Christian Bale …. John Preston
Emily Watson …. Mary
Taye Diggs …. Brandt
Angus MacFadyen …. DuPont
Sean Bean …. Partridge
Matthew Harbour …. Robbie Preston
William Fichtner …. Jurgen
Dominic Purcell …. Seamus