In the near future after WWIII the powers that be decide the only way the human race can survive is by the curbing of all emotions thus quelling man's violent warmongering. To this end all citizens are on a mandatory self administered drug intake, and special police known as Clerics enforce the law and seek out those guilty of 'sense crimes' whilst simultaneously burning anything that could provoke an emotional response such as art or literature. This is the premise of Equilibrium, a low budget comic book style action movie that appeared out of nowhere such was the distinct lack of promotional and marketing materials attached to it.
This movie is basically another in a long line of sci-fi films concerned with an individual fighting against the oppressive system. The plot is familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of dystopian fiction and whilst it doesn't offer much in the way of new ideas there are a couple of moments when the script goes against the expected conventions of the genre. Equilibrium also has a distinctly impressive visual style complemented by some good action and performances. Christian Bale seen previously in another sci-fi B movie, Reign Of Fire, is convincing as John Preston the top Cleric who has a change of heart after not taking his emotion suppressing drugs. His character follows in the footsteps of other protagonists such as those in Logan's Run and Fahrenheit 451, an upholder of the system who suddenly finds himself on the other side of the status quo when his eyes are opened. The rest of the cast are good with small but important roles for Sean Bean and Emily Watson in an underwritten part. The inclusion of Sean Pertwee as the ruler of this oppressive regime reinforces the fact that this is a truly dystopian society.
Director/Writer Kurt Wimmer presents an impressive vision of the future, going for a style most immediately reminiscent of Metropolis with a future cityscape dominated by tall oppressive buildings and zeppelins flying above a city with a clean sterile ambiance. It has a distinctly fascistic thirties look, a retro futuristic feel which is carried over in the set designs and character costumes - all hard edged, metal greys and blacks, purely functional and convincingly depicting the architecture and attire of an emotionless society. This provides a noticeable contrast to the 'outside world', the ruins of a dead city beyond the walls and the contraband of the freedom fighters which has a very nostalgic quality consisting of old paintings, gramophones etc.
What makes this movie different from the likes of 1984 is the action element. The Clerics are exponents of a firearms based martial art known as 'Gunkata'. Explained in a bit of a heavy handed way - indeed it does feel a little like a grafted on addition to a more traditional American action script - it is basically an excuse for Bale and co to look super cool with two handed gunplay and bone crunching action. This action is well handled aiming for a far less FX driven approach, there is no wirework or bullet time here. Recalling some of the style of John Woo movies, like the classic A Better Tomorrow 2 the set pieces are well choreographed and, unlike a lot of martial arts influenced Hollywood movies the fight scenes are expertly edited. Wimmer also brings his own stylish flourishes to the action. An early scene has John Preston entering a room in total darkness, the action shown to us solely by the flash of his gun muzzles. It is additions like this that mark out Equilibrium from the seen it all before syndrome of many of Hollywood's recent kung fu inspired movies.
Overall Kurt Wimmer's film is pretty entertaining and destined to garner a cult following. It won't change the world and is not the most original film ever made echoing many themes from dystopian literature and cinema and this is the main flaw. Equilibrium is rather too reminiscent of previous movies despite having some of its own touches, and because of this it remains a good but not great film. However it is not as many critics claim a rip-off of The Matrix, imagine Fahrenheit 451 as directed by John Woo, or an anime version of 1984 and you'll be closer to the mark.