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Posts Tagged ‘Equilibrium’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published March 20th 2003:

[Following a review of Far From Heaven.]

Well, after all that rich cinematic fare I was in the mood for something a bit less demanding. So what should fit the bill better than a sci-fi action thriller starring someone like Wales’ own Christian Bale? Pleasingly, just such a movie happened along in the shape of Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium.

In the future, society has been reshaped to include the maximum possible number of cliches from old SF movies. All emotion has been outlawed and the population exists in a permanent drugged stupor, rather like Vulcans on valium. Enforcing this new regime are the implausibly named Grammaton Clerics, foremost amongst whose number is the fanatically calm John Preston (Christian Bale, king of the dodgy accent). Preston is shocked (or would be, were it not illegal) to learn that his partner Errol Partridge (Sean Bean, slumming it) is secretly breaking the law and getting all teary and emotional over poems by Yeats (his transgressions no doubt caused by the stress of having such a stupid name), but being a dedicated servant of the state does his duty, letting Sean Bean get an early bath and have a long talk with his agent about the quality of the scripts he gets sent. Bean’s replacement is the ambitious Brandt, played by Taye Diggs from Chicago. But Preston inevitably finds himself questioning the values of the state, particularly after meeting hardened offender Mary (Emily Watson, really slumming it). Can he meet the challenge of bringing about a change in the system? And can Christian Bale meet the challenge of portraying more than one emotion in the same film?

Let’s talk about the good things in Equilibrium first. It’s rather well directed, for one thing, with a good deal of style. The production designs have a sort of brutalist grandeur even if they don’t quite manage to avoid cliche. Some of the action sequences are rather well put together, too. And, fair’s fair, Bale does a pretty reasonable job of portraying a man experiencing an emotional awakening (even if he is, inevitably, more convincing before than after).

But that really is all the film has going for it. Apart from this, what’s not cliched is silly, and what’s not silly is cliched. The list of films Equilibrium rips off seems to roll on forever: Logan’s Run. THX-1138. Fahrenheit 451. Metropolis. 1984. Demolition Man. The Matrix (there’s the most blatant knock-off in history of the lobby sequence from The Matrix, which is saying something). Being derivative isn’t necessarily a crime, but Equilibrium fails to fuse all its influences together in such a way as to establish an identity of its own.

The only even slightly original element to the script is the new martial art of ‘Gun-kata’, which supposedly involves using statistical analysis to predict where the bullets are going to be in a gunfight so the exponent can arrange to be elsewhere at the time. This idea strikes me as a bit bobbins, and the fact that on-screen the practitioners just seem to be vogueing with a gun in each hand does not help its credibility.

Credibility is one of Equilibrium‘s problems throughout, to be honest. Apart from characters with silly names, the script’s attempts to be moving and make serious points are torpedoed by a lack of subtlety (Preston finally turns against the system when it orders him to shoot a cute little puppy!) and some very dubious casting (at one point Bale beats up TV comedian Brian Conley – not that this is a bad thing, of course). The cast, which includes David Hemmings and (all too briefly) Lassie award laureate Sean Pertwee, do their best, but some things can’t be polished. And quite why the supposedly unemotional character played by Taye Diggs spent most of the movie grinning like a loon I could not tell you.

I didn’t really have great hopes for this film going in, but I would have settled for a cheerfully dumb, well-put-together, mid-budget actioneer (something like Bale’s last film, Reign of Fire). But Equilibrium‘s pretensions to worthiness, and its meandering, poorly-paced script, stop it from being even this. It aspires to have a message about the importance of emotions and compassion – but, ironically, I suspect the audience will find it very difficult to care either way.

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