It is the future. Society in the land of Libria has rebuilt itself after the devastating Third World War and to prevent any major conflict ever happening again, the citizens are constantly fed a diet of drugs that inhibit their emotions. Anyone caught laughing, crying, falling in love or being moved by banned artworks or music will be executed. These executioners are known as the Grammaton Cleric, and John Preston (Christian Bale) is one of the best. But one day, he accidentally misses his dosage, and begins to feel appalled at the injustice he sees...
Sort of an action movie cross between Fahrenheit 451 and Nineteen Eighty-Four, this daft science fiction parable was written by the director, Kurt Wimmer. The society it depicts is supposedly a reaction against the totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Stalin, but it makes no sense to replace one set of strict rules with another almost identical set, and the drugs are more of a gimmick than any realistic solution. Plus the government is led by The Father, which means people have to put up with being lectured by Sean Pertwee via huge television screens.
Full of implausibilities Equilibrium may be, but its ridiculous, straight-faced quality grows on you after a while. To eradicate violence from the rebels, the Clerics do their damnedest to implement as much as possible, using their martial arts technique that incorporates handguns. It's just a fancy excuse for Matrix style gun battles, in which Preston's attackers helpfully stand still as he goes on the offensive, thereby ensuring he survives until the end of the film.
Bale is pretty good at depicting a man with no emotions, but even when he is loosening up and getting in touch with his feminine side, he doesn't act all that differently to when he was drugged up. He does run about a lot more, though. All the other bad guys are less successful, losing their tempers and raising their voices, but as Preston's main rival, Taye Diggs is useless being impassive, frequently grinning and gloating.
Not half as meaningful as it thinks it is, the story has a clichéd way of showing the cracks in the cold hearted exterior. Naturally, there is a scene where Preston discovers a horde of banned artefacts, including a snow globe and a book of Mother Goose stories. He then puts on a record of classical music and is overwhelmed by its beauty - funny how he never discovered a pile of Jackie Collins and James Herbert novels, or found that the record he'd put on was by New Kids on the Block.
For real laughs, see the scene where Preston, his feelings melted by a little puppy he has saved from extermination, has to cover up the helpless animal from the attentions of a group of armed policemen: "Step away from the puppy!" they almost shout. Still, the production has a crisp look, much of the action is well-choreographed (even if Preston is predictably unbeatable), and the whole thing is enjoyable despite its mighty pretensions, or perhaps because of them. Music by Klaus Badelt. Here, wait a minute - Brian Conley?!