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Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau - Review

Volition. Nihilism. Humanism. All of these are studied in the Adjustment Bureau, a film adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick short story. Whenever a film tries to get philosophical, it is normally disastrous. In the case of the Adjustment Bureau, it is interesting that the ideology that drives it tells us two things, love conquers all, and man cannot rule himself. There is also a degree of politics imbued in this film, something that Glen Beck would have a field day with, but there is nothing here to make a big deal of, and that’s the problem.

Structurally and artistically, the Adjustment Bureau is fantastic. The cinematography is beautiful, the screenplay is naturalistic and convincing, and the characters, even the smaller ones, are fleshed out and studied. The film takes place over the course of several years, beginning at the failed campaign of a New York state politician and fast forwards to the time where his next campaign begins. It focuses on the most intense and stressful periods in the life of this politician, and it is timed perfectly.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is struggling in his campaign, and after a brief, chance meeting with a lovely woman hiding in the men’s room, his life becomes an endless search to find this woman again, a woman he knows is “the one” (In a very contrived and strange moment, after speaking for about thirty seconds they begin a passionate kiss). There is a problem with this relationship however: It wasn’t supposed to happen.

The Adjustment Bureau is a team of strange and very powerful beings that look like men, but they are much more. They can manipulate the world around them, they can change your will and even read your mind. After an agent assigned to keep an eye on Norris misses an important queue in his target’s fate, Norris stumbles again into the girl, Elise (Emily Blunt). This is a big problem and conflicts with “the Plan”. From here, the Bureau does everything they can to ensure David and Elise do not meet, and this is made even more difficult for them when they reveal themselves to David. Once he knows their plan, he does all he can to dodge their endless roadblocks.

This is the movie in a nutshell: Norris meets Elise, the Bureau attempts to separate them, repeat. Their measures grow increasingly extreme, but that really is the formula here, and that formula becomes a huge crutch to this film, keeping it from greatness. The first two acts of the Adjustment Bureau are great. The dialogue is good, the movie is shot well, and the performances by all involved are fantastic. When the film reaches its last act, it is an extended chase scene that is well done, but too fast and sudden. It culminates in an ending that is so sudden, so “Hollywood” and pandering that it feels like it belongs in a different movie.

Another strange element of the film is the marketing. The Adjustment Bureau is marketed as a thriller or even and action flick. It isn’t. It is a romance with an underlying fantasy element, and this is important to get across. It is much more When Harry Met Sally than it is the Bourne Identity. This is fine, because they didn’t take the route of Inception, which essentially ruined that movie for me; making it thirty minutes of set up, two hours of shooting. Still, the trailers are deceptive and that’s important to note.

Another note, the concepts of free will, God and human and social nature are good; they give the film depth and that is always welcome. I only ask: Why did they take the ending the way they did? It is contrary to everything in the film, and it made no sense. Just because there is a guy and a girl doesn’t mean the ending always works out the way the couple would like (I refer you to Casablanca).

Overall, the Adjustment Bureau is a good movie, held back because it plays it too safe. It had the potential for greatness early on, but the film’s cold nature takes a turn so weak that it makes you wonder what happened to the previous two hours. Still, for a good weekend night out, it is a movie with elements that most audiences will enjoy, and in the scheme of things, considering all the garbage that comes out in theaters these days, it is a decent attempt at a great idea that may just be too deep for Hollywood.

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