I first noticed Equilibrium while walking through Blockbuster one day. The cover of the DVD states, in big bold letters, "Forget About the Matrix". As a fan of The Matrix, this intrigued me. But not enough to make me rent a movie I'd never heard of. I'm usually pretty wary of straight to video movies. Then I saw a brief, positive mention of the movie in (I believe) Entertainment Weekly. So, on somewhat of a whim, I decided to rent Equilibrium. I'm glad -- thrilled even -- that I took the risk. I enjoyed the movie so much, that I promptly went out and purchased the DVD so that I can watch it again and listen to the director's commentary.
This is one of those movies where giving much of a description will give away too much of the plot. Thus, I will only offer a few very basic plot notes. The story takes place several hundred years in the future, following a nuclear war. Humanity is now ruled by a semi-mysterious, Hitler-like figure who has decreed that to avoid the wars and other mistakes of humanity's past, the root cause of those mistakes must be eliminated: emotion. Thus, the characters inhabit a world in which the population takes drugs to prevent emotions (think Vulcans, without pointy ears) and "Grammaton Clerics" scour the world to eliminate those guilty of "sense crimes"; that is, those who would dare to experience emotions or the things that might trigger emotions. To that end, music, art, and even pets are forbidden.
The movie presents this future in a visually stunning way. The characters all dress in uniform colors, almost all blacks, blues, grays, and whites. Rooms are wholly unadorned (except those hidden quarters of "sense offenders"). In this world, we follow some of the Grammaton Clerics. These men are the elite police force and have honed their gunfighting skills to an extraordinary level. (How they do this is explained midway through the film.) One of these clerics, for reasons explained in the film, stops taking his daily drug ("prozium" -- could that be a plan on "Prozac" and "Valium"?) and begins to feel. The movie follows this cleric as he begins to explore something that he's never had: emotion. Christian Bale's facial expressions as his character begins the transition from non-emotional automaton to thinking, feeling, human are as fascinating (even stunning) as the sets his character occupies.
Equilibrium is a very interesting take on a dark and violent future. The choreographed fight scenes (predominantly later in the film) give rise to some of the comparisons to The Matrix. Equilibrium does not rely upon bullet time; however, it makes good use varying camera angles, different speeds of action, and other neat "tricks". One fight scene is very reminiscent of Neo's entrance to the building at the end of The Matrix. Note that the fight scenes are very violent. We see blood spilled. Frequently.
The film also offers a number of surprises. There were several times during the film when I thought the story would go a particular way or a particular result would occur, only to be surprised. I like when an intelligent movie can surprise me. Were there plot holes? Sure. But aren't there always?
Overall, however, Equilibrium was a very solid example of science fiction film-making. For anyone who enjoyed movies like The Matrix, Minority Report, Gattaca, or Dark City, I strongly recommend Equilibrium. I think it compares very favorably to any of these. For those who prefer movies/books like Brazil or 1984 I can also recommend this film. For anyone looking for a warm, cozy romantic comedy, look elsewhere. I would recommend that children not see this film; I'm afraid that both the themes and the vision of such a dark future would be too much for most children.