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Equilibrium (2002)
Writer and director: Kurt Wimmer

review by Steven Hampton

John Preston is a gun-toting martial arts' cleric, enforcing strict anti-emotion laws in the city-state of Libria. He confiscates books and burns paintings - including the famous Mona Lisa (original or forgery?), and routinely executes those who defy the system by feeling sentiment, passion or love for other people or once-valued works of creativity or self-expression. However, reading poetry changes his life and Preston starts to question everything. Soon, he's off his meds (Prozium tabs which numb individuality and enthusiasm but not reason), letting rebel 'sense offenders' - such as feisty condemned dissident, Mary (Emily Watson), sway his judgement of the underground resistance movement, and even saving a cute puppy from callous stormtroopers. From that silly Disney-dog scene onwards, we can be sure that the intolerant Librian society is doomed as Preston shifts the balance of power from tyrannical repression to overactive empathy.
   Fascist architecture in formidable blacks and greys, and an oppressive political mood that harks back to Orwell's 1984 but sadly overlooks Terry Gilliam's expert satirising of the big brother dystopia in Brazil (1985), this somehow reminds me more of Megaville (1989) than The Matrix its stunt work so eagerly attempts to emulate, although here the target is art and literature (Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 is another obvious source of genre inspiration, or perhaps only imitation) rather than TV media. What makes Equilibrium work, albeit very rarely as coherent narrative or intelligent SF, are the stylish action sequences (one gunfight occurs in total darkness) and a few disturbing moments - as when Preston realises that his young son is spying on him for the state.
   It's quite easy to be sarcastic about this film's unrealistic and frequently absurd backstory, as it willingly trades away smart new clichés (retro futurism) for trite old ones (radical positivism), and yet its complete lack of subtlety is obviously its greatest strength. Along with the European crew and executive conspirators, co-producer Jan De Bont seems to have been intent on making a straightforward action movie with striking visual designs and not a trace of irony, and that's what Equilibrium is.
   The Momentum retail DVD includes making of featurette, Finding Equilibrium, a trailer and TV spots.
Equilibrium

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