1984 for Dummies, with a healthy dollop of MATRIX-style special effects and a fiery dash of FARENHEIT 451. In the aftermath of WWIII, visionary leader Father (Sean Pertwee) decreed that the key to mankind's survival lies in suppressing man's volatile nature. The citizens of Libria, the new nation that rose from the ashes of the old, must take daily doses of Prozium, a drug that dulls the senses and calms the passions that lead to rage, fear, jealousy and hatred. Loss of the ability to be moved by music and art, appreciate the beauty of nature or feel love is the price that must be paid. "Sense criminals" who refuse Prozium are hunted down by "grammatron clerics," elite law enforcement agents trained from childhood as emotionless killing machines. Top cleric John Preston (Christian Bale) can anticipate a sense crime almost before it's committed; he stood by as his wife (Maria Pia Calzone) was executed, and killed his own partner (Sean Bean) for reading a book of poetry. Then circumstances conspire to rob Preston of one day's Prozium dose, and his slumbering senses stir. Curious, he deliberately skips another dose and begins to realize the horror of life without feeling. Preston recoils inwardly when he and his new partner (Taye Diggs) arrest sense criminal Mary O'Brien (Emily Watson), and a new assignment — to infiltrate the underground rebels who oppose Libria's culture of conformity, given to him by none other than Father's right-hand man (Angus MacFadyen) — forces a choice between duty and the fledgling realization that that life without pleasure or pain is mere existence. Credit to writer and first-time director Kurt Wimmer for wanting to make a science-fiction movie that explores serious ideas and aims to serve as a wake-up call to those willing to surrender their freedoms for the promise of totalitarian safety. It even might make you think, if you've never read any of the giants of dystopian literature: George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley et al. The film's look is perfectly tailored to its themes, from the dingy cinematography to the monumental CGI set design (Albert Spier would have been proud) and identity-erasing costumes in somber shades of gray (the exception, of course, is the clerics' costume — fascists always have the best uniforms). But flashy, MATRIX-style action sequences trump ideas; it's hard not to feel you've just watched a feature-length video game with some really heavy back story.
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