Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #78
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: December 6, 2002
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $5,359,645
Running Time: 107 minutes
Director: Kurt Wimmer
Producers: Jan de Bont, Lucas Foster, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein
Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer
Special Effects: Uli Nefzer
Visual Effects: Tim McGovern
Cinematography: Dion Beebe
Score: Klaus Badelt
Editing: Tom Rolfe, William Yeh
Costume Design: Joseph Porro
Studio: Dimension Films, Blue Tulip Productions
Distributors: Dimension Films, Miramax Films
Stars: Christian Bale, Dominic Purcell, Taye Diggs, Sean Bean, Emily Watson, Christian Kahrmann, John Keogh, Sean Pertwee, William Fichtner, Angus Macfadyen, David Barrash, Maria Pia Calzone, Francesco Cabras, Matthew Harbour, Emily Siewert, Alexa Summer, Brian Conley, David Hemmings
Suggested Audio Candy
Klaus Badelt “Final Countdown”
I’ve always been something of a hoarder. Where others discard anything not deemed relevant, I’m the guy that hangs onto it just in case a rainy day should come. Obsessive compulsive through to my inner core, I managed to accumulate a 3000-strong DVD collection by 2013 and it still felt insufficient. Then something happened. Suddenly, almost forty years through my transience, it wasn’t quite the treasure it once was and, recently I cleared out my wares until I was left with just bare essentials. Naturally, I lamented my actions once I stared into the open space that replaced my assemblage but I also felt an overwhelming feeling of achievement. That said, I spent the following three months frantically reclaiming any lost treasure. You see, when news broke that music could now be downloaded and CDs were soon to be extinct, I was the one choking back snot and tears. The idea of a world without material goods chills me to the very bone.
Recently it was suggested that I find a spot beneath my microscope for Kurt Wimmer’s neo noir Equilibrium and, not being one to shun a request, I rose to the challenge immediately. When Wimmer’s film arrived in 2002 to middling reviews, it was regarded as something of a cut-price knock-off of the Wachowskis’ Cyberpunk masterpiece The Matrix and disregarded soon afterwards. In truth it has far more in common with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four than any of Neo’s exploits although it cleverly uses their template and visual style to make it more accessible. Slick action set pieces (devoid of wire work and bullet-time) punctuate what is essentially a pretty simple story that also shares parallels with John Carpenter’s They Live as our stern-faced hero fights the tide of inevitable alteration in a setting full of oblivious bystanders.
The year is 2072 and material items have become a thing of the past. Failure to adhere to strict government policy and hoard such relics is deemed insubordinate and said objects are confiscated and destroyed on-the-spot. Meanwhile, emotion is considered a sign of both weakness and insolence, and therefore punishable by death. There are a whole lot of faces like Viking longboats in the dystopian city of Libria and this is not the film to showcase to manic depressives, as outlawed humanity equates to uninviting washed out visuals and not a great deal of laughter. This is the point Equilibrium makes to the viewer: we’re all stuck in our mundane existences, pushing pens or working for The Man, and starting to surrender our own humanity. Much like David Fincher’s seminal Fight Club, Wimmer’s film encourages that we break free from our captive shells, embrace our existences and make a difference in our own unique way.
Our focal character is John Preston (Christian Bale), a high-ranking Cleric whose own wife was terminated on account of being one such “sense offender”. A sticker for following protocol, Preston is considered one of the best by his employers at the Tetragrammaton Council, the organization that governs the entire city under the leadership of the elusive Father. Every morning he takes his vial of mind-numbing Prozium and never once questions his actions. Anyone familiar with Bale’s glorious turn as Patrick Bateman in Mary Harron’s American Psycho will be only too aware of how astute he is at masking contempt and his dour expression couldn’t be more at home here. There is sentiment running through every cheekbone, brow and skin pigment without the necessity to spell it out. This enables him to expand on his character through precious little dialogue, making him absorbing to read throughout.
However, beneath that cranium, self-doubt is bubbling away like a highland broth and, after being left no choice but to execute his partner Errol (Sean Bean) for smuggling contraband, he decides to give the meds a break and see how the other half live. If only he had figured out his dilemma earlier (no Oracle on hand here remember) then we’d still have Bean. The Bean I speak of is of course the ill-fated Sean Bean and at times it has seemed as though Bean is the best-salaried actor on the planet. This surely must be the only reason why he can only be hired for ten minutes at the start of a movie. Does Bean have a clause in his contract that states that he must perish at an early juncture? Perhaps he suffers from chronic M.E? What other reason could there by for this fine actor being such a headstone inscriber’s nightmare? I put it down to rotten luck and here he reinforces my theory.
Of course, it doesn’t take the council long to grow suspicious of his surreptitious ways and, in Brandt (Taye Diggs), he has himself a doubting Thomas to be wary of. Brandt sniffs around John like a Dog Unit, waiting for the very moment that he drops his impassive guard and releases some of that pent-up emotion. Even his own son Robbie (Matthew Harbour) is giving him the third degree. Checking his pockets, holding unwavering eye contact, and making him squirm with frank cross-sectioning, he is made to feel increasingly like a minor in his own home.
He is even forbidden to have his own pet and forced to keep an adorable stray dog in the trunk of his car so as not to arouse suspicion. Naturally, the mutt damn near blows his cover and it’s off to doggie heaven for the cute little pup, much to John’s distress.
It’s not all doom and gloom though as he meets a fellow “sense offender” Mary (Emily Watson) and forgets all about Benji in a heartbeat. Mary is a good person, martyr for the cause, and the one person he wishes to see redeemed more than any other. Meanwhile, he is also introduced to Jurgen (William Fichtner), leader of a band underground revolutionaries looking to rise against the tyranny and fight for what is good.
Suddenly John finds himself at a particularly thorny crossroads and, with his inner frustration begin to visibly overspill and the meddlesome Brandt waiting in the wings to pounce, it comes as a great relief when we are afforded the opportunity to watch him get his guns off. Boy, does he get them off. Having also endured the injustices he is forced to observe with ever burgeoning nonchalance, we are tight beside him with every shattering blow from the butt of his gun or precise slice with his vivisectionist’s wet dream of a Katana.
This will be likely be the only time you will hear Equilibrium compared to Tron but the precision movement of those light cycles is translated to a fighting style reliant on pin-sharp reflexes. It’s all about anticipation and then pre-planned response and John is always two steps ahead of his competition.
This meticulous fighting style is a joy to behold, we’re talking clips slid to nearby proximity and gratefully received a combat roll later, doors used as surfboards, and all manner of Gun Kata moves thrown in, nay placed in precisely, to form a combat approach sharper than a fistful of broken glass. The $20m budget is there for all to see and director of photography Dion Beebe ably assists in capturing the rhythmic flow.
Then there’s the outfitting. Like The Matrix before it, Equilibrium knows it’s cooler than Penguin feces and this is reflected in the slick black tunics and shoes polished enough to appease even Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley. The styling is influenced by other great works of Dystopian fiction and costumes akin to Vatican attire. The wardrobe department deserve credit for the fine creations which match the slick energy on-screen. However, aside from glossily choreographed mêlée, cyber-cool excess and shameless alpha-male bravado, is there a film underneath? Yes would be the answer to that commonly asked question and a pretty good one at that. Granted, it’s not exactly high art and lacks the same exactness with pacing as it does combat to truly be considered a classic but, in Bale, it has itself the ideal center point and once again he proves that his nuts are decidedly tough ones to crack.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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