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The One Sci-Fi Movie You Need To Watch Before It Leaves Netflix This Week

Start spreading the news: One of the most overlooked science-fiction films of the previous decade is lurking at the bottom of the Netflix heap, just waiting for you to watch it. The only catch is, you'll have to act fast.

Equilibrium is a woefully under-appreciated gem of a movie with big ideas, bigger actors, and Matrix-style sci-fi martial arts. Written and directed by Kurt Wimmer, the film stars Christian Bale (The Dark Knight trilogy, American Psycho) as protagonist John Preston. Preston works for the government as a "Grammaton Cleric" — basically a futuristic cop with Neo-level gunfighting skills who super hates feelings.

In Equilibrium's dystopia, the fascistic Tetragrammaton organization has established an enduring social order in the city of Libria through martial law and a strict ban on emotion and artistic expression of any kind. "Sense Offenses" that violate this stricture are punishable by summary execution. The Tetragrammaton principally enforces their draconian laws by drugging the population into a soporific state of compliance. In the event that someone shakes loose their pharmaceutical chains, the Tetragrammaton sends in the Grammaton Clerics to light the offenders up.

It's basically Brave New World meets 1984 meets Fahrenheit 451 with a dash of creatively choreographed gunfighting. Who doesn't want to watch that? How this film slipped through the cracks when it was released back in 2002 is an absolute mystery, especially considering the fact that Bale is joined by fellow A-listers Sean Bean (Game of Thrones), Taye Diggs (All American), and Emily Watson (Chernobyl). 

Fortunately for the millions who missed it, Netflix is offering a chance at redemption — but only until the end of this week.

Equilibrium wears its influences on its sleeve, but that's not necessarily a bad thing

The plot of Equilibrium really takes off after Preston accidentally stops taking his meds. No longer inhibited by the mind-numbing effects of the Tetragrammaton's prescribed Prozium regimen, he begins to reconnect with his emotions and realizes he may not be entirely down with the system he helps enforce. In an interesting wrinkle, Preston's wife was found guilty of Sense Offense years prior, and Preston actually participated in her execution. Without the Prozium coursing through his veins, Preston comes rapidly to terms with the loss and all the other pent-up emotions that the drug had helped to suppress.

Yes, Prozium serves the same social function as Soma from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Yes, the scenes of Grammaton Clerics burning artwork are basically re-skinned from Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Yes, "Tetragrammaton" is a pretty weighty reference to throw around in what is essentially a gunfighting popcorn flick. Even the story of a man who awakens to the dark reality of his dystopia and rebels against the totalitarian government feels overly familiar. If you're looking for an entirely fresh story, you won't find it here — but that doesn't mean Equilibrium isn't worth 90 minutes of your time.

Wimmer's action sequences elevate Equilibrium

Writer-director Wimmer is also drawing from a deep well of influence cinematically. Grammaton Clerics like Bale's John Preston are trained in a fighting technique that essentially turns them into invincible pistol ninjas. The film definitely shines during its action sequences, wherein Bale judges the trajectories of bullets and dodges in real time, while placing his own shots with absolute precision. This fictional fighting style is portrayed on screen using time dilation techniques reminiscent of the best fight scenes from The Matrix. It's easy to forget how trendy slow-mo was in the early 2000s, but Equilibrium is here to remind you.

Every set is described by utilitarian and neo-brutalist architecture. The film's color palette includes every possible shade of utilitarian gray. Wimmer's future looks like a dystopia where all artwork has been outlawed. It also looks a lot like 1984. Sci-fi fans are often well-read and well-watched, so they can be particularly sensitive to tired tropes and visual cliché. That might have been part of the reason Equilibrium didn't soar in its original limited release. Wally Hammond from Time Out went as far as to call it "transparent plagiarism" in his 2006 review. That's probably too far, but Equilibrium is certainly building something out of borrowed parts.

If you can get past the abundance of inspiration and appreciate these touches for homage, then there's a good chance you'll be able to enjoy Equilibrium. If nothing else, it's a great way to pass the time while you wait for The Matrix 4. Just make sure you click play before it disappears from Netflix on June 7.