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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Equilibrium

Starring: Christian Bale, Taye Diggs
Director: Kurt Wimmer
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: December 2002
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action, Suspense

*Also starring: Sean Bean, Sean Pertwee, Emily Watson, William Fichtner, Angus MacFadyen

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

If the U.S. pulled its troops out of Saudi Arabia, would bin Laden and his cohorts be satisfied enough to stop their terrorists attacks? Probably not. Why not? The attacks are motivated only partly by specific wrongs for which the fanatics blame the U.S. The principal cause of the aggression is pure hatred against a West that is far more prosperous and allows considerable freedom to groups (such as women) that are kept down by some of the states that house the extremists. Is there a way to rid ourselves of these terrorist attacks without invading Iraq? Sure but not practical. You can inject all the people in the world daily with a drug that would turn them into virtual zombies (Librium, for example, from which the title of this film may have been derived). Voila. We're all devoid of emotions, the negative ones like jealousy, sorry and hatred and the positive ones like love and friendship. This is the principal concept of Kurt Wimmer's imaginative sci-fi thriller, "Equilibrium," which despite being a retread embodying tales like "Fahrenheit 451" (underground movement retreats to memorize banned books), "The Matrix" (videogame-like shoot-ups), "Village of the Damned" (reading people's minds), "Gattica" (the search for the perfect human being), "1984" (anti-sex league, Big Brother is watching) comes out of today's headlines, at a time that government officials are pondering what to do about enraged fanatics intent on destruction out of pure hatred for the enemy.

When Wimmer starts his film with portentous narration and pictures of Joe Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein, we're ready to think that what the society known as Equilibrium has done to prevent war is utopian, and not, as production notes state, dystopian. After all, what could be better than a world without war? The question is: are we willing to shed our emotions to reach that state, to become zombies whose only purpose is to further the interests of the state?

In the film, which stars Christian Bale as a top paramilitary official Cleric John Preston who gets to kill far more people than did the American psycho, a machine-gun-toting force looking like clones of robocop keep perpetual vigil over the last enclave of human beings left on earth following a nuclear World War III. To avoid World War IV, that is, a civil war in this case, everyone is mandated to inject himself daily with Prozium. Prozium numbes all senses and people appear willing to subject themselves to this ritual because they heed the omniscient head cleric (Angus MacFadyen) who appears on the Imax screens all over the city.

Such a society is bound to fail, however, because some hardy men will remember how they feel in the presence of women (and vice versa) and form underground movements to topple the regime even though a new order could lead to war. When Cleric John Preston, having accidentally dropped his dose of Prozium, is unable to get a new supply for a day, he runs into Mary O'Brien (Emily Watson), whom he arrests for ignoring the drug and living with perfume and music, and who challenges a way of life that requires a shucking off of all feeling. Now, nobody can resist Emily Watson, drug or no drug, and pretty soon Preston questions his loyalty to the regime, a situation noticed by his increasingly suspicious partner, Cleric Brandt (Taye Diggs).

What gives "Equilibrium" its power despite its recycling of old themes is incredible production values. Filmed at State University of New York at Purchase and featuring "Metropolis" and "Dark City" style architecture, "Equilibrium" enjoys momentous production values. Virtually every scene could be frozen and placed in a museum of cinematically vivid shots. Christian Bale is charismatic, not only because of his slicked-back black hair his serious demeanor but because we can actually believe he can mow down armies of loyal forces with just two huge guns, turning somersaults like Keanu Reeves and proving himself the fastest gun in Purchase, New York. Taye Diggs takes a break as the Buppie heartbreak kid to perform in the role of a man who lets nothing stand in his way of career advancement, certainly not his partner who has gone astray. And Emily Watson plays against type as a gamin who insists that life without feeling is utterly meaningless.

When Austin Powers says, "Oh behave," he never intended his audience to turn into zombies. If drugging oneself silly is to be the society of the future, who'd want to be part of it? There's a plot hole that I could not resolve; how does the loyal character of Taye Diggs become enraged at his partner and, what's more, fiercely ambitious to become the right-hand man of the Father if he's taking his Prozium? In any case, videogame lovers, sci-fi fans, cinema buffs who love action at a fierce pace should go for the film, one which might even get them thinking about the kind of political setup they would have in their ideal society.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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