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EQUILIBRIUM (2002) (***1/2)

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This sci-fi flick is part 1984 part MATRIX. The plot is completely borrowed from the classic sci-fi novels like the aforementioned Orwell novel, FAHRENHEIT 451 and A BRAVE NEW WORLD. The high-octane fight sequences are all MATRIX.

The story is set in the 21 Century after the Third World War. Humans have discovered that the bane of human survival is our emotions, which lead to wars. The Earth's populations are forced to take an emotion-numbing drug and those suspected of feeling are killed. Highly trained government agents called Clerics are sent out to find Sense Offenders. John Preston (Christian Bale, AMERICAN PSYCHO) is the top Cleric and, after his original partner is killed as a Sense Offender, he is assigned Brandt (Taye Diggs, CHICAGO) as his new partner. But after Preston arrests pretty Mary O'Brien (Emily Watson, PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE) on Sense Offense charges, he stops taking his Prozium to see feelings from a rebel's point of view. Soon he can't hide his feelings, which makes Brandt suspicious.

The film pushed and pulled my opinion throughout. When I was distracted by the seeming plagiarism of the screenplay, I was soon overwhelmed by the quality of the pace, acting and production values. When I was questioning the plausibility of the action sequences, I was soon overwhelmed by their sheer adrenaline-inducing nature and propelled forward by a tense and taut narrative. By the end, I knew I wanted to see this film again. It's a smart take on classic totalitarian sci-fi literature with cool modern action choreography that makes its stars into superheroes.

Usually, I hate implausible action when the film is not a superhero flick (i.e. CHARLIE'S ANGELS). However, this film I forgave because of the sci-fi nature of the story and the sheer skill at which the action scenes where constructed. They are just plain cool. Another thing that helped was that unlike bad action films (i.e. CHARLIE'S ANGELS), this film has a brain and a message (even if its kind of stolen).

Director Kurt Wimmer (SPHERE) wrote a solid script that keeps one on the edge of one's seat throughout. Plus, the focus on emotions in this day in age when any hyper child is put on Prozac or Ritalin in two shacks of a lamb's tail seemed poignant. The film seemed more inspired by 1984 and FAHRENHEIT 451 then a total rip-off. A sort of modern take on those classics.

As well, at its core, Christian Bale is at the top of his game. He is a talented actor that only needs a big break and he will be propelled to A-List status. Give me Bale over Affleck any day. When he was emotionless I believed it. He was then amazing at playing a character that had to hold in his emotions or risk death. I would have liked to see Watson's character developed more, but it really is only a minor quibble.

I'm very sad that Miramax buried this film last fall as it pushed other films in an attempt to win an Oscar. I really think this film could have been a blockbuster. But alas, it will have to settle as being a hidden gem.

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Rick DeMott
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