Shelved for months by its distributors, only to be unceremoniously dumped into theaters in a ludicrously limited release, it's no surprise Equilibrium hit the home video market with zero fanfare. What is a surprise, however, is the fact that this film kicked the living shit out of me. I was simply scouring the DVD racks for something new, saw this flick and said, why not. I put it in with absolutely no expectations whatsoever, and when it was over I was literally shaking with the excited energy of a crack baby in a French disco.
In the late 21st century, following a catastrophic world war, a "Utopian" society based on the principals of emotional repression has emerged. Governed by the omnipotent Father (Pertwee), it's citizens are force fed a steady diet of anti-sensory propaganda and mood stabilizing Prozium to keep them "balanced". While the new way of life has virtually eliminated crime, poverty and war, it's also denied man his most basic of needs and desires; there is no love, only commitment. No hatred, only mild disenchantment. To exist in this world one must forsake all that makes existence worthwhile. Naturally, not everyone is comfortable with the trade-off, so Father's utopian police force, the Grammaton Clerics, soldier the land laying waste to anyone and anything that threatens the sterile status-quo. John Preston (Bale) is amongst the Cleric elite, and is entrusted with much of Father's more difficult disavowers. He and his squad obliterate nests of the rebellion, burning books, artwork, and even shooting up a pen full of poor ol' puppydogs, with orders to leave a not-a-trace of anything remotely sense stimulating behind.
When Preston discovers that his longtime partner (Sean Bean) has stopped taking his Prozium and has been stealing contraband meant to be destroyed, he is forced to kill him. When Preston loses control and begins to feel remorse, he, too, skips a dosage of Prozium, and when feelings begin to surface for a rebel prisoner (Watson) scheduled for execution, Preston begins to work for the rebellion himself in an effort to save her. The rebellion, however, has grander plans for Preston, their new and most powerful ally. As Preston begins to work both sides of the fence, his new partner Brandt(Diggs) becomes suspicious of his fellow Cleric's actions. The rebellion informs Preston that for their cause to succeed he must kill Father, but under Brandt's increasing scrutiny, his task is a formidable one indeed.
Filmed for just south of $20 million dollars, Equilibrium looks as good as a film made for five times as much. Equal parts 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and balls out Hong Kong style action, it would be easy to write this one off as a Matrix retread, however Equilibrium is virtually nothing like that film. The Matrix owes much, if not all, of its style to Japanese animation and comic book action, while Equilbrium is firmly rooted in classic sci-fi and John Woo style gun ballets. The fighting style of the clerics, the gun kata, is a sly combination of double barrel gunplay and hand to hand combat. The choreography is nothing short of amazing. When Preston first displays this skill early in the film, the screen literally goes blank for a full five seconds, and then explodes in a vibrant and exhilarating display of pure cinema gold. It's truly one of action cinema's finest moments.
As cool as the action scenes are, Equilbrium's emphasis is on the plight of its characters and the story is an engaging, if not overtly familiar, tale of man versus oppression. It's an original take on the formula, though, and the excellent cast pull it off quite nicely. Bale is particularly impressive as the conflicted John Preston, and proves he's a much better action hero than Reign of Fire lead us to believe!
The DVD from Buena Vista features a gorgeous anamorphic widescreen transfer and kickin' 5.1 sound mix (read that LOUD AS FUCK!) as well as two commentary tracks; one featuring director Wimmer, and the other featuring Wimmer and producer Lucas Foster. The disc also features a short making of featurette entitled Finding Equilibrium that offers no real insight on the film, but does feature interviews with all of the principals. There's also a trailer that apparently never aired in my neck of the woods, but seeing as to how Equilbrium only played for one week on 300 screens (an average studio release plays on nearly ten times that) it's doubtful that many people saw it at all.
Apparently this film was originally slated for a March 29th 2002 release, but was pushed back due to sensitivity about its "terrorist" elements. When Dimension settled on a Fall rollout, the tension around the situation with Iraq (Equilibrium's opening montage of the events that lead up to the new world order credits Saddam Hussein as being a catalyst for the third world war) led to the studio's apathetic limited December release, thus killing what could have been one of the biggest films of the year.
Equilibrium simply blew me away. While Matrix comparisons are inevitable, they are two completely different kinds of films. However, were Equilibrium given a fraction of The Matrix's promotional blitz, something tells me we'd be awaiting the further adventures of John Preston with as much anticipation as of those of Neo and Morpheus.