|Though it has the propensity to resemble a B-movie, Equilibrium is nonetheless an entertaining bit of science fiction that fans of the genre can appreciate. Partly because of the performances of its lead stars and also because the fight sequences choreographer actually thought up something new for this go-around. The plot sometimes seems illogical, but with a very intense performance from Christian Bale, the film stays stirring until the end. The biggest mistake the film makes though is in the halting editing present in the first ten or fifteen minutes.|
After a standard action sequence to introduce the fascist world that Christian Bale (playing "John") and Sean Bean (playing "Partridge") work in as book burning "clerics," the film must work hard to overcome the long back story shown to the audience through a series of title cards. The screenwriters could have easily introduced the type of world the characters inhabited during the story, rather than before it. The "explanation" prologue is a hallmark of futuristic science fiction movies, but aside from the famous scrolling text of the Star Wars movies, this tactic always has a negative effect on the beginning of the film.
It's like the beginning is halted for this explanation of events that the audience will doubtlessly learn about anyway as the movie is presented. Perhaps it is that the prologue is overly dramatic and sets the film up as a much more introspective piece than what it comes across as. From the somewhat out-of-focus cityscape shots that populate the film, to the Spartan set dressings in the emotionless world of the late twenty-first century, the production design for Equilibrium seems all over the map. While in some scenes the sets appear clean and orderly and suitably "futuristic," the large effects shots of digitally composed buildings are too easy to see as fake and prevent the viewer from immersing one's conscious fully in the narrative.
And that narrative seems to disappear without a trace every once in a while when the action overtakes the story (as usually happens in action films) and Christian Bale must turn into a Hong Kong Kung-Fu like martial arts star. Whatever his dramatic capabilities, Bale proves that he can hold the action crown high, as he did also in the recent Reign of Fire. And when Bean's character of "Partridge" is taken out of the story, his replacement, and Bale's new partner, "Brandt," played by Taye Diggs, in top form dramatically and physically, provides a suitable nemesis for the protagonist. Though Diggs's character doesn't have a lot of depth, the actor brings as much life to the story as one can expect from the screenplay.
Where the film is at its most successful is when the much discussed "theme" of the film is toned down in favor of the emotional development of the characters. After missing a dose of the emotion suppressing injection that all citizens in the film must take every day, Bale finds that the emotions he begins to feel are not something he's prepared to give up. And the psychological torture that his character has to go through is brought to the screen in a very visual way, with a great shots of Bale looking haggard and suitably depressed. In considering the effectiveness of Bale's performance, this role represents on of his most realistic and engaging showings to date.
It is the combination of some good leading performances and a new take on fight sequences that make this movie palatable, even after a stumbling beginning. While the film sometimes falls into dangerous action-movie ridiculous territory, it usually picks itself to become engrossing once again after a few scenes. For all the statements about freedom of "emotion" and the comments on man's destructive nature and volatile passions, the film's simple theme is exactly what it should be, given the filmmakers' attempts to create a film more in the vein of an action movie rather than in that of a "thinker."
Why dwell so hard on the theoretical and psychological inclinations of humans when you can make up some truly interesting fight scenes? Christian Bale and Taye Diggs really have the knack for pulling off their stunts realistically. And although Equilibrium will never hold the title for being the smartest science fiction thriller to be released, strangely enough, it still makes for an interesting theatrical experience. Though it is a film probably best suited to fans of the genre. The limited release for this film was probably a good idea from the Dimension folks, as releasing the movie into thousands of theaters probably wouldn't draw in anybody other than science fiction fans. Which it shouldn't, given that it is firmly entrenched in that presenting that type of story.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.