As a sci-fi action film, Equilibrium provides a lot of exciting Matrix-style action and visuals but falls a little too closely to its science fiction roots to be original or truly successful. Released directly to DVD, this $20 million film has interesting visuals, several exciting fight scenes, and some really enjoyable acting on the part of a fairly well known cast. However, Equilibrium’s concept too closely parallel that of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984 and does not have enough of a unique story or philosophy to make it really stand out. In the science fiction genre, exceptional ideas can almost be more important than execution or big name actors.
A high-ranking Grammaton Cleric, John Preston (Christian Bale), is forced to kill his partner, Partridge (Sean Bean of Lord of the Rings fame), when he is found to have kept materials meant for destruction. After killing Partridge, Preston is immediately given a new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs). The morning after killing his partner, Preston misses his morning emotion-lulling drug and he begins an emotional trip, discovering what it means to really feel emotions. Eventually Preston finds himself seeking to infiltrate the rebels as a Grammaton Cleric. With several twists and turns, it is difficult to predict the end.
Overall, the cast of Equilibrium gave an extremely good performance. In particular, Christian Bale, soon to be seen in the coming Batman Begins and probably best known for his role in American Psycho, makes for a very intimidating Jedi-like figure, displaying a wide range of emotions, and exhibiting huge physical prowess as a Grammaton Cleric. Bale as Preston is involved in several combat scenes, which include swords, batons, the blunt end of handguns, and firefights. All of these fights come off viscerally successful, partly because Bale is so involved in them physically, rarely being replaced by a double. Several of Bale’s fight scenes pit him against his new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs). Diggs also makes for a very ominous figure and succeeds in portraying a character made to suppress his emotions and carry out some very extreme actions.
Generally, the film’s concepts draw too many parallels and come too close to many of the classic science fiction stories. As a result, Equilibrium becomes a too much of a reflection of these works. Much of John Preston’s transformation comes due to his having stopped his emotion-suppression drugs. These drugs work much like those found in classics such as Fahrenheit 451 or Brave New World. Preston works as a Grammaton Cleric, a lead soldier who acts as the point man and coordinator in several attacks on rebel hideouts. The Grammaton Clerics closely resemble the Jedi Knights from the Star Wars series, even going so far as to having their own fighting style, the Gun-Kata, a Zen Buddhist-like action oriented style of aiming and moving with handguns. The social structure of Libria resembles 1984 in that there are constant audio and video transmissions throughout the city, reinforcing the rules and philosophy of the city’s ruling government. The transmissions are hosted by a figure referred to as Father who too closely emulates the idea of 1984’s Big Brother.
One thing that does set Equilibrium apart from these other stories is its overall visual look and use of set design to shape a modern and twisted world that is similar, but very different, from our own. On the two commentary tracks of the DVD, the director and writer, Kurt Wimmer and the producer, Lucas Foster talk at great length about how the film came to have such an interesting and original visual quality to it. All of the film was shot in Europe between Berlin and Rome, which gave it an old world fascist feel intertwined with the new world modern architecture that is being built in those areas currently.
Wimmer and Foster also talk about how they went to great lengths to use attractive and appropriate set design, props and lighting to establish a very convincing and new world. The audio commentary from the Extra Features area is at times fascinating when Wimmer and Foster discuss how long it took to make the film, how they worked with the actors and crew, and how they stretched their limited budget. However, both commentaries become trite when Wimmer tries to defend his script and brings up his lack of time and money to make the film.
Ultimately, Equilibrium makes for an interesting rental when you want a Matrix-combat fix set in a visually interesting world, but lacks the story and originality to make it worth a buy.