Film Reviews: Wednesday, December 5, 2002
Starring Christian Bale and Emily Watson. Written and directed by Kurt Wimmer. Rated R.
You Won’t Feel a Thing

The only emotion Equilibrium will evoke is drowsiness.


Fun fact: The title of the sci-fi thriller Equilibrium was originally Librium before it was changed, presumably due to the intervention of some lawyers working for Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc., the manufacturer of the neuroleptic drug marketed under that name.

You can see why the old title might perturb the pharmaceutical industry. The movie, based heavily on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 with a touch of Orwell’s 1984 thrown in, takes place in a future world where the government forcibly medicates everyone to prevent their emotions from clouding their logic and judgment. Anyone who willingly goes off his medication or secretly collects art, music, or literature is labeled a “sense offender” and is subject to being hunted down by specially trained supercops called “clericks.” Foremost among these is Clerick John Preston (Christian Bale), a lawman who’s a true believer in the system even though there are cracks all around him. His wife was executed as a sense offender, and his partner is revealed to be another one — as the film opens, Preston kills his fellow clerick, who dies clutching a book of Yeats’ poetry. Soon afterward, Preston accidentally misses a dose of his medication at the same time that he encounters a beautiful woman (Emily Watson) who’s one of the leaders of an insurgent movement dedicated to the government’s overthrow. He tells his superiors and himself that he’s trying to infiltrate the movement, but soon he turns double agent for real.

The proximate problem of setting a thriller in a dystopian future police state is the fact that Minority Report already mined this territory. (Of course, it’s hardly fair to ring up writer-director Kurt Wimmer for not being Steven Spielberg, but these two movies are so similar in intent and have been released so close to each other that the comparison’s unavoidable.) Equilibrium is too caught up in its shopworn ideas to credibly present a society that might plausibly evolve from ours today. There isn’t a speck of dirt in this future world; the cars and buildings are all slick surfaces and cold colors, giving the film the look of a tv commercial. Wimmer’s staging is static, with the actors posed as stiffly as statues. The exception to this is during the numerous action sequences, which are on the whole unconvincing — the climactic gun battle is downright ridiculous.

Bale does well enough in the challenging role of a man who has to hide his emotions while feeling everything for the first time. Still, Equilibrium is the second silly action movie he’s done in a row, and it isn’t nearly as much fun as Reign of Fire. With Watson uncharacteristically bland in her role, Taye Diggs walks away with this picture as Preston’s backstabbing new partner. This handsome, multitalented actor has always oozed charisma in comedies and dramas, as good guys and bad guys. Major-league stardom continues to elude him, but you can just feel that he’s due. He plays a careerist with a feral glint in his eye, and when he’s onscreen, you can’t direct your attention anywhere else. It’s ironic that in a movie that’s about an emotionally deadened world, it’s his evil ambition that burns more brightly than any other human feeling.

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