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A Silly Little Case of Deja Vu
on June 20, 2003
Borrowing from, perhaps, every science fiction or related genre films (FAHRENHEIT 451's censorship, 1984's Big Brotherism, BLADE RUNNER's search for truth, THX 1138's outlaw of emotion, THE MATRIX's kinetic action, the ZATOICHI series of samurai films, LOGAN'S RUN awakening Sandman themes, and even DEMOLITION MAN's brainwashed hero / antihero), EQUILIBRIUM never quite finds the perfect balance in the mix of sociopolitical themes ... but it sure boasts an impressive performance by Christian Bale as the emotion-killer 'Cleric' who slowly discovers his feelings, only to find survival and salvation in once again tossing emotions aside.
Think DANGEROUS LIAISONS. In the future. Dressed all in black. With guns.
In this cautionary tale of the near-future, emotion -- the source of all things human -- has been outlawed. Those found exploring their emotions are destroyed, burned to death in chambers of unforgiving stone and steel. Still, the lack of emotion occasionally hampers a story almost crying out to be told by Bale's John Preston. The few reserved smiles he shares whilst finding the humanity buried deep within himself are barely enough to keep one's interest. Those who make the trip, however, are rewarded with a crescendo by newcomer Bale. Easily, he makes the most of heavily-choreographed revolutionist climax.
While the film's dueling guns philosophy (gunkata?) feels occasionally out of place in a world denied emotion, the writer/director keeps tipping his story back and forth between the more interesting elements (emotional discovery in human expressions, the nature of relationships in a world turned cold, etc.) and the less interesting, predictable instances (long-held camera shots of Librium, the city, and the seemingly endless march of its hypnotized citizenry). Photographed in dark hues, some of the images symbolizing emotional discovery -- a rainbow over the dark city, the smile of Preston's young son, the glimmer of a puppies eyes -- are almost swallowed whole by the film. The resonant as best the can in a world meant for robots.
All in all, EQUILIBRIUM is not a bad film, even measured as derivative of some of the finer films mentioned above. The pacing is a bit uneven, but Bale manages to keep the viewer's interest. The texture is overwhelming, but the constant search for hints of emotion on John Preston's face lift the story above the ordinary. What's frustrating is the film it could have been ... had it found better balance.