Eye For Film >> Movies >> Equilibrium (2002) Film Review
Equilibrium was a favourite project of mine for years, while it simmered away in pre-production Hell and endured numerous rewrites; every time, rumour had it, the spiky plot was made a little smoother, the politics central to the plot eased away. The title, of course, should have been Librium, though I think perhaps the subtler post-threatened-lawsuit version will be better at getting across the message to the masses. I had worried that too much else would have been lost by now. I went to see this out of lingering loyalty, expecting to hate it. I was quite, quite wrong.
Equilibrium is that rarest of cinematic entities, a film which succeeds both as intelligent science fiction and as action drama. The rewrites haven't done it any harm at all; there are too many elegant literary, cinematic and historical references intact for me to believe that anyone was involved, at any point, who didn't get it.
What's interesting about a lot of these is the way in which they're used; they're not just there as tokens, but as active symbols, sometimes red herrings; a number are turned on their heads in clever ways, yet without being twee. Their contribution to our understanding of the post-world-war-III society with which we are confronted is all the more potent because this is a society obsessed with destroying art. In Libria, everybody can live safely, freed from the threat of unlawful violence and war by the pharmaceutical suppression of emotion. What's startling here is not the heavy handedness which some critics have claimed to see, but rather the number of fictional details which have become reality since this film was first proposed.
Perhaps more important than all this is that the makers of Equilibrium have understood something which most science fiction blockbuster producers do not, and that is that a story of this type is worth nothing unless one can care about the characters involved. It all hinges on a superb performance by Christian Bale, and it's difficult to think of another actor who could've pulled off the role.
John Preston is a man who has spent years hunting down those who illegally experience emotion; when he misses a dose of drugs himself, we see him transform through sequences which take careful account of his withdrawal distress and of his inexperience in observing the world sensually. But that's far from the end of it; what happens to him thereafter is much more complex, and darker, and bravely handled. This is far from being a black and white story of evil pharmcorp versus outlawed romantics, as many viewers will realise the moment they hear Beethoven's Ninth.
In addition to this, Bale's dance background and years of post-American Psycho body training enable him to carry off action sequences really impressively, without any of the stilted we-learned-this-in-ten-minutes look of wannabe kung-fu fighter trash like The Matrix. People who enjoyed that film can expect to enjoy this one; it's beautifully choreographed, and explained with bold simplicity. The fight scenes never seem extraneous. Indeed, their emotional impact, or lack thereof, is vital to our interpretation of character throughout.
The visuals in this film are generally very well handled, eschewing flashiness yet managing also to avoid the grim blue-lit cliches which choke most other such tales. The other thing which I have to mention here is Emily Watson's performance. She is one of the most interesting actresses working in Hollywood today, and watching her is sometimes like watching James Dean - whilst others speak their lines, she can just smoke a fucking cigarette. Her ability to convey a lifetime's passion with just one movement of her eyebrows provides a vital core of intensity in what is sometimes a very cold, dark story.
Some critics have protested at her performance, and at other displays of sentimentalism within the film - to them I can say only that they might as well already be living in Libria. If fashionable cynicism is more interesting to you than human complexity, stay at home and take your Prozac. As a good friend of mine once said, everyone's so afraid of pretension, but some things do rise above. Take a risk today. Miss a dose. Watch Equilibrium.Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007