I’ll be the first to admit that dismissing any film as a Matrix clone feels like a cop-out. The pioneering thriller powered through theaters three years ago, yet films continue to beg, borrow, and steal their stunt techniques and sleek visual styling from the Wachowski brothers’ remarkably innovative work.
While not quite a Matrix replica, writer/director Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium duplicates too many elements from its sci-fi predecessor to ignore the comparison. The film inhabits a Huxley-inspired fascist future society where emotions are chemically suppressed. World leaders believe it helps prevent global warfare. If love and happiness are sacrificed in the process, so be it.
With gun in hand, Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale) and his team of highly-trained, heavily-armed government soldiers police our society’s ability to feel. His partner, Cleric Brandt (Taye Diggs), eventually comes to suspect Preston of skipping his mandatory dosage of the mood-suppressant drug Prozium after an encounter with a ‘sense offender’ (Emily Watson) opens his mind to a world filled with feeling. Such offense is punishable by death, but they have to catch Preston first – a task that proves easier said than done.
Wimmer’s flashy gadgets and whirling fight sequences may look cool, but they can’t distract from the flawed support structure holding Equilibrium up. Who can live from minute to minute, day to day without feeling at least one emotion? To feel absolutely nothing is to cease to exist. Even the Clerics – the ones policing the populace in the film – experience a range of emotions on screen, from fear to hatred to pride to envy. Wimmer never properly defines ‘sense offense’ or gives us a reason to overlook this error.
Ignore this obvious (yet crucial) blunder and you’ll find a few things to appreciate. Using precise, razor-sharp choreography, Wimmer injects a brutally inventive style into this bland, sterile environment. The director lays the symbolism on thick, as people are shot at point blank range through the books that condemn them. Appropriately enough for a movie about suppressing one’s senses, there’s a ton of senseless violence, punctuated by a bombastic score of Gregorian chants and operatic swishes lifted from The Omen soundtrack.
Then there’s Bale, an interesting choice to play Preston. As an actor, he’s been emotionless before (American Psycho), and it’s safe to assume he’ll be emotionless again. He does possess the physical prowess to pull off the daunting action sequences, which have a distinct frenetic quality. His drone of a character just calls to mind Matrix star Keanu Reeves, and the presence of the icy Diggs only makes us think of stony Laurence Fishburne in (you guessed it) The Matrix. Sense a trend? Still, when it comes time for Bale to express emotions convincingly – a key turn in Equilibrium – he’s physically incapable to stretch that far as a performer. Perhaps the star is doped up on Prozium in real life. Now that’d be a movie.
You can hear Wimmer give his take on the DVD’s commentary track… then hear it again in a joint commentary track with producer Lucas Foster (yeah, we’re dying to hear his perspective). Why two commentary tracks from the same person about a film like Equilibrium? Better to ask: Why one?
Nothing’s equal in the future.