Directed by Kurt Wimmer

Starring Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Emily Watson

In the days after the third world war, it has been determined that human emotion is what has led to all the crime, hatred and war that has plagued mankind forever, and the only way to ensure the survival of the race is to turn people into monotone sheep, with no feelings at all. Thus is the premise of Equilibrium, a film that has sleeper written all over it, sneaking into a few theaters with little advertising. It’s as if Dimension Films wants to distance themselves (and the potential audience) from the hyper-violent picture, starring Christian Bale and Taye Diggs.

And that is a shame. Made on a tiny budget, suffering through a name change — the original title Librium brought protest from the manufacturer of the mood stabilizing drug — this film succeeds in capturing a ground somewhere between the stylized action of The Matrixand the brain candy of a Gattaca or Solaris. If ever the timing was right for a movie that shows the perils of an overreaching, nanny government, that time is now.

Perhaps that might have something to do with the lack of fanfare this movie has generated. If released prior to 9/11, it would most likely been seen as a quick attempt to grab some sci-fi/action film dollars before the second Matrix appears, because the main plot elements of the film would be considered too far-fetched, too alien to viewers daily lives to be considered remotely believable. Not so today. The images of lock-stepped, silent drone people plodding from drab building to drab building, all the while being preached to by giant video screens of “The Father” is more easily imagined in these days of “Homeland Security” and the Patriot act. The rigid, humorless insanity of a John Ashcroft or Donald Rumsfeld press conference could be inserted into this film, and no one would flinch. A nation of people drugged into silent submission, unable to voice opinions or dissent probably looks quite fetching to some of the powers that be right now.

Christian Bale is quite fine as a government “Cleric,” a highly placed and trusted agent tasked with ferreting out “Sense Offenders” — namely, people who have gone off their meds and can still feel. Of course, he as well is commanded to inject “Prozium” on a daily basis, until one day accidentally (or not?) misses a dose. From that point forward his perceptions of the world slowly change, and he is able to recall the senses and emotions that have long been smothered in the comfortable banality of chemicals. Bale is good at displaying the tightlipped emotions of his character, never becoming too animated even at the heights of new found “feelings.” He truly shines in the fight scenes, a display of “Gun-Kata,” a sort of kung fu with guns. The fight sequences are choreographed as well as any since Mission Impossible 2, with the climatic final scene giving new meaning to the notion of a “face off.” The main fault of the movie is perhaps an over-reliance on such moments, that become numbingly familiar after awhile. And it is certainly true that the film has plot holes large enough to wedge Oprah into, and perhaps director Kurt Wimmer watched The Matrix a few too many times, but this film stands out from others of its ilk, combining the concepts of 1984 and the fiction of Ray Bradbury with Hong Kong-style action. It is a rare film that can make an audience go “Did you see that?” and “Have you ever thought that?” in equal measure, but Equilibrium does. See this movie before “The Father” says you can’t.

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