A review of Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium is a very frustrating review to write. On the one hand, it is impossible not to enjoy the spectacle. The action scenes are very well choreographed and bring to mind the sort of things Bruce Lee may do if he lived in this time period. The film was made for twenty million dollars. It looks like it was made for ten times that amount. Wimmer is obviously good at economizing, something that I have to praise as budgets continue to increase while the films end up being worse and worse. And the plot itself is not a complete insult to the intelligence. It is merely that the universe is so inconsistent, so unwilling to live up to its own premise, that it almost becomes a joke, meant to be filler for the action scenes.
The film takes place in a future dystopia in which human emotions have been eliminated with a drug called Prozium. Art, film, and books are destroyed. People who stop taking the drug (which is mandated by the government) are considered sense offenders and arrested by the Clerics. One cleric, John Preston (Christian Bale) accidentally misses his dose and begins to feel. Finding that he enjoys having emotions, he goes on the run from another cleric (Taye Diggs) and helps the resistance to destroy the Prozium plants.
Now, reading that, what would be the biggest problem with the premise? The elimination of human emotions. In order to accomplish this, every character would have to act like a character in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They would have no discernible personalities, they would not react to any sort of action going on around them. Sense offenders would stick out, in the same way that the few remaining humans in the aforementioned McCarthy era masterpiece stuck out.
This would make an incredibly boring film. Even the director admits this-that Prozium is meant to dull the highs rather than obliterate the senses and audiences should just accept that. Good enough, but that is not the claim that is made in the film. The people do not say that senses and feelings have been “dulled.” The claim is that the senses have been eliminated. Wimmer says so in his film. It is good he recognizes his own mistake, but why oh why is it the audiences job to clear up his mess?
With that in mind, the characters are completely inconsistent with the premise. They do show emotion several times. They scream at each other. Several things Preston does should give him away immediately, but do not. And Preston does not really gain emotion….he merely appears to gain an appreciation for art. The premise simply collapses under its own weight. Not to mention that the city it takes place in mostly exists to provide exposition. Far too often are leaders shown giving speeches about items the citizens should already know. And the citizens applaud the speeches. Shouldn’t they just stoically sit there?
And the design itself is not even that original. It is basically a combination of the worlds presented Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, and Zamyatin’s We. This had the potential to be clever, but in the hands of Equilibrium, it is very dangerous. I do not need to be reminded about much better dystopias that had a point rather than a haphazard attack on the pharmaceutical companies.
But the action scenes. Oh, the action scenes. They are well crafted, subtle, and actually make sense in the world that has been created rather than a showcase. Trampolines were used to execute some of the stunts. Yes, trampolines. They do not last long, which has the disorienting effect of making people wonder if they had just seen it. That makes them all the more special.
Too bad the film falls into the traditional action film problem in the third act, in which scenes exist to create more action. Characters are introduced just to assign Preston murders. He is then forgotten about. The final scene almost abandons the goofy sensibilities of the early scenes and becomes a video game.
If I seem to be struggling at this point, it is because Equilibrium is so insubstantial. It pretends to be deep, but it really is not. It is at the very least enjoyable, even if it cannot compare to actual true dystopian masterpieces in cinema and literature. See it, but ignore the IMDB rating. It is not some sort of forgotten masterpiece….merely an above average action film with an inflated reputation.