A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 455 – Equilibrium

Equilibrium – May 29th, 2011

I’ve got to admit it, I really like Christian Bale. Okay, I know next to nothing about him as a person, but as an actor I’ve always enjoyed his stuff. Yet somehow I’ve missed this movie. I remember seeing ads for it when it came out and thinking I would very much like to see a movie where Christian Bale wore a long dark coat and was a total bad ass. These are the sorts of shallow things that I have no shame in admitting to. Of course, I also enjoyed him singing and dancing in Newsies, which we still don’t have for some reason. My enjoyment of Christian Bale on my television screen is not limited to bad assery. But he does bad assery so well.

In this movie he starts out as a sort of fascist ubercop and ends up an antifascist uberrebel. The society he lives in, Libria, has been built following World War III. In an effort to eliminate the perceived root of all human cruelty and suffering and war, Librians are not allow to have emotions. To accomplish this, since it’s not something that’s easy to just do out of will, all Librians dose themselves with an emotion suppressant called Prozium every morning (and possibly multiple times a day). And that is the movie’s first major failing and unfortunately it’s part of the foundation for the whole plot. This entire society is based on enough government brainwashing to keep people taking this drug, voluntarily, on a daily basis. Children are trained to dose themselves. Everyone carries around these little hypodermic guns and sticks themselves in the necks when a city-wide buzzer sounds. And the plot of the movie depends on people ceasing to take the drug and starting to feel again, so there had to be this mechanism that they could circumvent. But that circumvention seems so very easy. Why isn’t it more widespread? Do people keep dosing themselves out of fear of being caught and incinerated? But fear’s an emotion, so, no. They do it because they’re brainwashed. But some people don’t. It’s really just very hard to buy as a serious premise.

And oh, oh does this movie take itself seriously. It starts out with a raid on an illicit building full of paintings and poetry books. Since emotions are forbidden, so is art and anything that might cause an emotional response. Guess Prozium only works so long as you’re not exposed to anything that might make you question the brainwashing that makes you keep taking it. The initial raid shows us the destruction of the Mona Lisa, and no, it isn’t meant to be cheesy or over the top. This is supposed to show just how dire things are and how nasty the guys in charge can be. I think my problem here isn’t necessarily the serious tone, but that the world building is too sloppy to support it. So the tone ends up coming off as far too heavy and it tips into silly.

Fortunately it wasn’t too hard for me to shove all that aside once the action started. Because once the action started it became clear that there is no way to actually take this movie too seriously. How could you when it involves Christian Bale’s character managing to kill an entire room full of men with guns – while standing in the center of said room with all of them aiming at him – without a single grazing on himself? Bale’s character, John Preston, is a Grammatron Cleric, a sort of Secret Service agent in charge of leading raids on “sense offenders” who hoard art and the like and who don’t take their Prozium. Clerics are also pretty damn deadly even without a squad of armed soldiers at their beck and call. There’s a bit in the movie where it’s explained how a Cleric can use some sort of fancy statistical research to calculate the best place to stand in a room full of armed men and how to kill them all really fast without getting hurt. But the truth of it is that it’s just plain movie gun fight magic, so why even bother having a technobabble explanation for it? Clerics are super well trained at killing people and not getting hurt. There you go. All the explanation you need! Preston certainly displays some impressive fighting skills through the course of the movie, with a gun and without one. So that right there is the draw for the movie.

Through the course of the movie Preston becomes disillusioned with his fascist government, eventually making contact with the very underground resistance he was assigned to find and eliminate. He stops taking his Prozium, starts feeling, avoids his Cleric partner, avoids his creepy son (who’s studying to be a Cleric as well), and talks to a young woman who’s been imprisoned for sense offense. There are plot holes galore here (why is she still wearing what must be her own colorful clothes and make-up even when imprisoned? why isn’t she incinerated sooner? who knows!) but it does allow Emily Watson to give some nice performances in the few scenes she gets. It’s sort of Logan’s Run-ish in its overall story arc and I can run with that. Bale gets to be all tortured and stoic at the same time, which he does fairly well, and there’s plenty of action to watch to distract oneself from the wobbly plot.

I think I liked this story better when it was part of A Wrinkle in Time or The Giver. Or, you know, when people who didn’t feel were Vulcans, who are awesome. Okay, those are cheap shots, but wouldn’t Christian Bale make a great Vulcan? In all seriousness though, if you can swallow the conceit of the movie then the rest of it follows fairly well. It had perhaps one too many twists near the end, but none of them were implausible. The action was fun and the acting was fairly decent all around. I liked Taye Diggs in the role of Preston’s new partner, Cleric Brandt, and while Sean Bean’s not in the movie for long he does a nice job with what he’s got. I wish there had been more solid worldbuilding. I wish the holes in the plot hadn’t been so big. Because the movie itself is a nicely stylized dystopia with an engaging main character. So watch it for the action and the acting and look elsewhere for serious commentary on human nature.


May 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment


May 29, 2011


It’s funny how one’s perception of a movie can change. My recollection from the last time I watched this, shortly after I bought it on the recommendation of customers who really enjoyed the shooty action of it, was that it was a dark and gritty film with some cool gun fights. That was eight or nine years ago. As I watched it tonight I found myself somewhat startled by how flimsy the plot is, how brutally heavy handed the message, and how ultimately silly the whole movie is from start to finish.

If you were to go by my more impressionable Blockbuster patrons this movie would be the be all and end all of gunfight movies, and I can’t deny that it has a certain charm. Part of the premise of this movie is that the highly trained clerics that act as the secret police for the fascist regime that rules the world (or at least the one city we see) in this dystopian future have mastered a kind of gun-fu. They call it the “gun-kata” and there’s some mumbo jumbo about how their training allows them to fire into areas that have been statistically shown to be the more probable locations for their targets to be. The end result is that the clerics have a super-human ability to walk out into a gunfight and wave their arms around magically hitting every hapless person around them. It looks very cool, but it’s hardly realistic.

Indeed I think that could be my summation of this entire movie. It’s a cool, cheesy, meticulously produced action movie with not much plot to speak of and more holes in it than Albert Hall. It also clearly thinks it’s a movie with something important to say. It’s exceptionally pretentious and heavy handed in its attempts to appear to be something more than simply a movie with some cool fight scenes.

Right from the start it is a movie that would rather tell us in no uncertain terms what it is about than bother to try and show it to us. The opening monologue explains how after World War Three humanity decided that the only way to end all conflict was to outlaw the one thing that caused all hatred, andger and violence: emotions. To that end everybody is prescribed a daily dose of a powerful mood altering drug that must have made the lawyers for Prozac itch to claim libel. All art, music, perfume, prose or anything else that might elicit an emotional response is contraband, and the police, led by the clerics, hunt it all down and burn it. Think Fahrenheit 451 with a broader net than simply books. The most efficient and emotionless of the elite clerics is John Preston, played by Cristian Bale.

Right from the beginning it is established how powerfully emotionless John is. His own wife was incinerated for sense crimes at some point in the past. He kills his partner when he discovers that he has been rescuing books from incineration. His children are well dressed automatons with slicked back hair and are trained to rat out any classmates they see showing emotion. Then one day he accidentally misses a dose of not-Prozac and everything comes crashing down.

This is not really a movie with many twists or turns. There are a couple attempts at misdirection near the end and some machinations on the part of “The Father”, the talking head that runs the whole society, but for the most part this is a straight forward tale of a man deciding to overthrow the system that created him. The ultimate warrior.

If I were to level any complaint at this movie it would be that it tries so darned hard. It’s okay, movie, you don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s alright just to be a very slick and cool looking action film. My biggest complaint would be that the action scenes, cool as they are, are too few and over too quickly. There’s a lot of style and class to this movie, and the shootouts have a look to them that is pretty much unique. (The closest I can think of to compare it to are the bullet-curving firefights in Wanted.) The aesthetic of the emotionless society is great. Full of blacks and greys with the evil troops all decked out like Nazi SS troopers with their long black leather jackets. When the movie reaches its inevitable conclusion however it feels, well, insubstantial. It is implied that the great revolution is begun, but I didn’t really feel that the short action sequences right at the end brought any closure to the film.

I don’t know. This is not a great movie, but it seems to think that it should be considered one. In the end it’s a little disappointing to me in spite of the style and the swagger and the very cool performance of Christina Bale (who does emotionally confused and tortured so very well.) I would have to say that for pure cheese and action fun I somewhat prefer writer/director Kurt Wimmer’s more recent film about a lone warrior taking on the religious demagogue of a dystopian future society – Ultraviolet. That movie at least knew just how silly it was and reveled in it somewhat.

May 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment