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Equilibrium (2002): ***½

Directed by Kurt Wimmer

We all know what "Orwellian" means, right? It's referring to a certain dystopian genre of future speculation. Orwellian futures usually have several things in common:

  1. The populace is oppressed, usually without knowing what they're missing. This oppression can be caused by brainwashing, chemicals, or just plain keepin' em in ignorance.
  2. There is a single leader, never seen in person, who is portrayed as being all-knowing and all-seeing and benevolent.
  3. The death penalty is given out for practically any crime.
  4. There is some sort of shadowy, ruthless police force.
  5. There is often some sort of apocalypse that occurred in the past that justifies the oppression of the people.

In the case of Equilibrium, it goes like this:

  1. Oppression is through a chemical called "Prozium" that keeps you from experiencing extremes (on either end of the scale of positive to negative) of emotion.
  2. The leader is called "Father" and speaks to the populace over loudspeakers and video screens.
  3. If you feel an emotion too strongly they have a tendancy to burn you to death.
  4. They're called Grammaton Clerics.
  5. There was a limited nuclear war. People are put on Prozium so they can't get all worked up enough to go to war again.

In Equilibrium Christian Bale plays John Preston, one of the Clerics who goes out into the area outside of the Father-run city of Libria into the Nether regions to hunt down Sense Offenders—people who aren't taking Prozium, and are therefore feeling emotion. But since this is a movie, we know that sooner or later Preston is going to go off the Prozium himself and begin to feel emotions (it happens accidentally when he breaks a vial of the Prozium, and the Prozium distribution center is shut down when he goes to get some more).

All of the Orwellian stuff in this movie is pretty much by-the-numbers. The dull gray city; the fatherly voice and face of Father talking about how bad emotions are; people walking around blank-faced; everyone's desktops arranged perfectly and all the same.

There are some plot twists as Preston falls in league with the rebels and tries to hide his emotions from his new partner (Preston kills his old partner for Sense Crimes), Brandt (played by Taye Diggs). Eventually there are revelations about the nature of "Father" that are neither surprising nor shocking in the context of this genre.

What sets this movie apart are the performances by Bale and by Taye Diggs as his new, suspicious partner. This film makes me believe that Bale could really pull off a tormented Bruce Wayne in the upcoming Batman film (hopefully the rest of the movie will be as good). And Taye Diggs has an almost-amused smirk on his face. He seems almost to be on the verge of Sense Crimes himself in that he seems to enjoy his work just a little too much. And god damn is he a handsome man.

Where this movie really stands out is in the action. Not so much in the choreography or cinematography or direction of the action sequences (which is all top-knotch, don't get me wrong), but in the philosophy behind the action.

Equilibrium introduces us to the idea of the Gun Kata. The Clerics seem absolutely invincible in shootouts; nobody can seem to hit them, and they never seem to miss, even (as in the opening action sequence) in complete and total darkness. The reason is that they have developed a martial art based entirely around the gun. Not only that, but extensive research has been done into countless gunfights of the past and present, and the Clerics have come up with certain statistical likelihoods of where bullets and assailants will be at any given time, and are therefore able to use the appropriate katas to place themselves into positions where the bullets won't hit them and where they'll be able to shoot their opponents without fail.

In other words, the gunfights aren't based on what's actually happening around the Clerics. They're based on the percent chances of what is probably happening around the Clerics. It's an absolutely fascinating philosophy of how to fight, by minimizing to almost zero the chances that you will be shot while simultaneously maximizing to almost 100% the chances of shooting your opponent(s). It gives the action scenes a certain je ne sais quoi. Particularly memorable is the final action sequence in which Preston faces off at point-blank range against someone else who is just as versed in the Gun Katas as he is. The way they use their guns in this scene is just as stunning and beautiful as the way Jet Li and company use their swords and whatnot in Hero.

It's almost a shame that the movie is so short, and that it really leaves no room for a sequel (and the facts of a limited release and poor performance practically nip any sequel ideas in the bud), so we'll never get to see any Gun Kata battles other than the handful that are in this film. It's a shame, really. I would love to see another movie take place in Equilibrium's world.

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