There's not a single fire-breathing dragon in Equilibrium, Christian Bale's latest sojourn through a bleak future, yet the film's premise necessitates a leap of faith as mammoth as the one required for Bale's last film, Reign Of Fire. Updating 1984 for a post-Matrix era, Equilibrium takes place in a dystopia where emotions have been outlawed in the interest of national security. To help fight "sense crimes," the state employs ostensibly emotionless clerics trained to kill as efficiently as possible using a wildly implausible but strangely hypnotic fighting style that combines geometry, martial arts, and good old-fashioned ultra-violence. Bale stars as one such cleric, a stone-faced killing machine who begins to question his commitment to the job when his partner is executed. A chance meeting with an adorable puppy causes Bale to further question his allegiance to the evil, monolithic state, as does his relationship with condemned sense-criminal Emily Watson. During its weaker moments, Equilibrium's premise raises questions it has no interest in answering. What is courtship like in a world where emotions are forbidden? Does the state outlaw all emotions, or just powerful, easily identifiable ones? What about emoticons: Are they outlawed, too? Equilibrium's world doesn't stand up to even the faintest scrutiny, but writer-director Kurt Wimmer's sleek, propulsive direction provides plenty of distraction from the abundant inconsistencies. The film contains few ideas that can't be traced directly back to 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, or The Matrix, but a terrific cast, stylish direction, and elegantly choreographed mayhem help make it far better than it might have been. Cult icon Bale makes his character's inevitable transformation from unthinking automaton to rugged individualist touching rather than silly, while Watson takes a thankless role and turns it into the epitome of vulnerable, trembling humanity. Though ultimately silly, Equilibrium's shopworn but stylish synthesis of ammo and ideas is surprisingly engrossing.
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