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Equilibrium: A Film I Can Keep Watching

Equilibrium, the 2002 film written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, is not a classic film or a great film but I enjoy its silliness so much, I don’t care. It’s a film that has gained a following via DVD – it even has a fansite, – and it’s one of those films that, if it turns up unexpectedly when channel-hopping, I will watch it even though I have it on DVD.

The film is extremely derivative – The Matrix looms large over the film (the black clothes and martial art sequences); it steals liberally from 1984 and Brave New World (a world where everyone is watched by the state, and take a drug called Prozium to keep emotions under control); there is Fahrenheit 451 (art is banned because it excites people) and Metropolis (for the visual feel); and these are just the obvious things that even I can pick up on. However, homage/theft is nothing new in cinema (paging Mr Tarantino), and interesting new things can arise.

The novel thing in Equilibrium is Gun Kata, the wonderfully ridiculous martial art that is supposedly based on the analysis of gun fights, where the practitioner can move fluidly from one position to the next where they statistically will be out of the line of fire. It is absolutely ludicrous but also strangely cool at the same time – seeing our hero, John Preston (Christian Bale in full action hero mode), shooting lots of people dead in the dark, his gun glowing afterwards, is a very cinematic joy. The action scenes are over the top, yet controlled and filmed well, and look good.

A quick word about the plot – some time in the future, the city-state of Libria is controlled by Father (Sean Pertwee) via the Council and the Grammaton Clerics, the elite of the police force who are trained in the art of Gun Kata, who pursue ‘sense offenders’, people who don’t take their Prozium and feel emotions again. Preston’s Cleric partner (Sean Bean) becomes one and Bale has to kill him. However, due to breaking his Prozium vial, he misses his medication and this leads to him feeling emotions again, which leads to problems doing his job (such as not being able to see a puppy executed, which is a really funny scene in the middle of this grimness and gun fights). He finds his way to the Underground, who are ready to destroy the system if Father could be killed, and things head towards the obviously violent climax.

Some weird things about the film: the presence of so many British actors in the film. Even though Bale is doing his baseline American accent, the others speak in their native accents: Bean in practically a cameo; Pertwee as the Father character, always on TV screens in the background; Angus Macfadyen as Dupont (the Vice-Consel of the Council); David Hemmings as Proctor (another cameo); Brian Conley as a reading room proprietor (a man British audiences are used to seeing on his own entertainment television programme in the 1980s); and Emily Watson in a small role as a sense offender with whom Bale develops a connection (reuniting with him after Metroland). There are a couple of Americans – Taye Diggs plays the over-ambitious Cleric trying to bring down Bale (for someone who is supposed to be controlling his emotions, he gets angry easy and smiles a lot in the film), and Michael Fichtner is the head of the underground, doing his thing where he appears in small roles in films (including another Wimmer film, Ultraviolet, later on) – but it has a European feel to it, helped as it is by fact that it was mostly filmed in Berlin. I always thought it odd for such an action film, but that could be me.

It’s the action scenes which really sell the film and I can watch them endlessly. Bale is a good action actor, and he helps to sell them with his intensity – whether fighting policemen at night when he tries to set free the puppy he saved, or smashing helmeted police goons with the butt of his pistol, or fighting the police in the halls of the Vice-Counsel (looking particularly cool in his white suit), or the piece de resistance: the sword fight between Bale and Diggs. It’s only a quick fight, but Digg’s face sliding off after Bale has sliced it in one strike is hysterically brilliant. It’s icing on the cake when it comes to the enjoyable nonsense that is Equilibrium.

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