" Be careful of the deadfall "
— Anthony Hopkins, The Edge

MRQE Top Critic

Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Film students can take Equilibrium and make it into a great drinking game. Just take one shot for every reference to another science fiction/action story such as The Matrix, Blade Runner, 1984, Brazil, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Minority Report, any John Woo movie, or even Triumph of the Will. Only the great acting saves Equilibrium from total worthlessness.

Watching Big Brother

Acting and action save Equilibrium from becoming just another drinking-game movie
Acting and action save Equilibrium from becoming just another drinking-game movie

Equilibrium takes place in the not-too-distant future where the survivors of World War III have decided to rid the human race of any emotions to prevent any further conflicts. Everyone walks around in a total state of numbness because of required daily Prozium injections that negate any feelings. Big Brother-esque screens are everywhere, reminding everyone how much better things are now that no one knows how to feel hate or sorrow.

Of course, rebel factions resisting this way of life abound, and special police units called Grammatron Clerics are called in to exterminate these rebels and destroy any pieces of art they might possess, because art will cause you to “feel.”

Cleric John Preston (Christian Bale), and his partner Partridge (Sean Bean), arrive at a rebel outpost, and Preston takes out the whole crowd using a martial arts technique called Gun-kata, where he just stands there and shoots everyone around him while his targets get no chance to shoot back. The clerics find a stash of paintings that includes the Mona Lisa and burn it, but Preston catches Partridge pocketing a book of poetry by William Butler Yeats, and later executes him when he finds Partridge reading from it.

Later Preston forgets to take his Prozium, and despite help from his new partner, Brandt (Taye Diggs), is unable to get a replacement dosage. Sure enough, emotions start creeping into his personality, such as when he hears Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the first time. He goes rogue when he chooses to save a puppy from execution by using his Gunkata-honed skills to wipe out a whole squad of cops.

Saved by the Bale

The movie really offers nothing new. It’s another cautionary tale against a society depending too much on medication and suppressing emotion. We’ve seen these police states before, we know the possible hypocrisy that exists behind them, we know that the hero is going to blast the bejeezus out of things in order to bring this dictatorship down.

But it’s the acting, particularly by Bale and Emily Watson as Mary, a captured rebel who chides Preston of the pointlessness of his passionless existence, that is clearly Equilibrium’s strongest suit. Watching Bale slowly integrate feelings into his cold, calculating face has as much effect on the small screen as it would have in a theater. Diggs also provides some interest as someone who has a freakishly creepy smile, especially for someone who isn’t supposed to know joy.

Picture and Sound

Since the movie had a limited $20 million budget, Equilibrium’s set designers had very little to work with, and it shows in the picture. Most of the tricks to make the movie look more expensive are achieved by creative lighting, using only whites, blacks and grays for color tones. However, in certain scenes where emotion is supposed to be represented, lighter and warmer shades appear, and it really looks out of place, more so than the director intended.

The sound leaves a lot to be desired as well. Even with its Dolby Digital Surround, it’s hard to hear anything in the quiet scenes, while the gunfights will leave you reaching for the volume control on the remote. The soundtrack also relies too heavily on bass, while the music levels are inconsistent as well.

DVD Extras

The only special features are a superficial four-and-a-half minute documentary and two audio commentaries. The only purpose of the documentary, Finding Equilibrium, is to get at least one sound bite from each member of the cast and crew. As for the commentaries, one is by director Kurt Wimmer, explaining his second thoughts and admitting to borrowing elements form other movies, while the other track is Wimmer with producer Lucas Foster.

The second track is the more amusing one, where you can hear the two converse about budget solutions and tell interesting anecdotes about the production. For example, Bale was so committed to the production he went through strenuous exercise and training. One of the buildings they photographed in eastern Berlin was actually an unfinished subway tunnel.

Conclusion

Watching Equilibrium isn’t a complete waste of time, and those interested in the genre might find a it quite interesting, but the lack of true originality degrades from the otherwise top-notch acting and action scenes.