Friday, March 4, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau - Theatrical Review

Release Date: March 4, 2011

I have been seeing articles all over the place recently calling March the new May or that March is where the movie studios now put all of their more risky and original ventures. I can't say I disagree with those assessments because a release like The Adjustment Bureau definitely signifies a change in quality for this time of year from not only recent releases but from years past as well.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 12:01 am March 4, 2011
Projector Type: Digital

Loves: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Philip K. Dick
Likes: Films about fate and destiny
Neutral: Heavy influences of a higher power
Hates: All build up with very little payoff
Happy: That Emily Blunt is finally getting into the lime light

First time Director George Nolfi has got all the pieces here to make a fantastic film. Having Matt Damon as your star is always a plus but never a guarantee of success regardless of how well made the film may be, see Green Zone. Then he had the wise foresight to bring the undeniably beautiful and talented Emily Blunt into the mix whom I predict is only going to become more in demand by each passing day. And having a strong supporting cast to back them up with the likes of Michael Kelly, John Slattery and the always engaging Terence Stamp was like icing on the cake. As if that weren't enough they were all playing in a film based off a short story by one of the greatest Science-Fiction authors of all time, Philip K. Dick. Everything was in place to give us a truly unique experience but as the saying goings, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch".

That's not to say The Adjustment Bureau is a failure, quite the contrary actually. I just found there to be something missing from the narrative, something that I couldn't quite put my finger on until I had some time to mull it over in my head a few times. I am getting ahead of myself though, it wouldn't do much good for me to get into any issues I had with the film without giving some context first. So we will get back to that here in a little bit.

Just another one of those chance meetings...or is it?

David Norris (Matt Damon) is your basic everyday hungry politician that is in the front running for Senator of the great state of New York. That hunger comes from this void deep within him that was manifested due to the loss of both his parents and his brother when he was just a boy. His public image is that of a somewhat reckless guy (he is no stranger to bar brawls) but he uses that to help connect with the younger demographic in hopes that he and his skilled team of campaign promoters lead by his good friend Charlie (Michael Kelly) could one day reach political greatness. That all comes crumbling down however when a rather candid image of him appears in the paper and the night of the election he suffers a crushing blow that most think he will never recover from. Thinking he is alone, he prepares for his concession speech while in the men's restroom when all of a sudden a woman (Emily Blunt) pops out of one of the stalls.

Stumbling towards the sink she embarrassingly introduces herself but without giving her name, which becomes critical later on. You can sense an almost immediate attraction between the two of them as they both begin to confide in one another. Having to flee the scene before the security finds her (she was crashing a wedding) she quickly vanishes from David's life. A month later on a random bus ride David finds her again and confesses to have never being able to stop thinking about her ever since that night they met. They once again connect immediately and after David finally gets her name (Elise) and her phone number the two of them part ways but this time he isn't going to let her go...or so he thinks. One might call these encounters fate or destiny and say that their meeting was meant to be...however, for reasons unknown to David or us there are powers at work beyond their comprehension that will stop at nothing to make sure they will never be together

The bureau doesn't like it when two people fall in love.

That power is of course the adjustment bureau, a group of hat wearing business like men that seem to be everywhere and anywhere they need to be. When we are first introduced to them they are looking over the city as they talk about getting everything prepared and how it must all go flawlessly. At that point we have no idea what they are talking about or even who they are. All that we know is that one of them named Harry (Anthony Mackie) who has been assigned to David for quite some time, has been tasked with making sure he spills a cup of coffee on himself at precisely the right moment. We don't know what that will accomplish but when that moment passes by and David hasn't spilled his coffee he has unknowingly altered his destiny down a path that will change his life forever.

I am going to try to avoid giving too much away about the details of who or what the adjustment bureau is and why they are focused on David but I can't lie, there may be some information I have to give in order to fully elaborate on my feelings towards the film. So you have been forewarned, if you wish to have a blank slate when going to watch it I suggest you get out there and see it now because up until this point I haven't given anything away that wasn't seen in the trailer for the film.

There is never a moment when you don't think these two belong together.

With this being a Philip K. Dick story I knew going in that no matter how bad the film may turn out that at least there would be some fresh ideas and/or characters to experience and for the most part that was true. Luckily though it didn't turn out bad and as a matter of fact it was quite a bit of fun in the end. I thought both Damon and Blunt made a completely believable love-at-first-sight couple that would stop at nothing to be together, especially Damon whom (to nobodies surprise I'm sure) owns every single scene he is in. Blunt had the harder character to play in my opinion because she literally has no idea what is going on for most of the film and each consecutive time that she loses contact with David and has to see him again after different passages of time have gone by she had to act completely bewildered and upset at his actions while conveying a sense of longing that she was so desperately trying to hide.

And the reason that they can never seem to be able to stay together for very long is because of the adjustment bureau's meddling, but they aren't completely to blame though. Early on in the film there is an incident where David accidentally stumbles upon one of their "adjustments" and the main man in the hat, Richardson (John Slattery) is forced to reason with David. They pull no punches with him as the film pulls no punches with us, we learn as does David that these men are working for the big man up stairs, the head honcho, or as they call him...the chairman. They explain that every person has a destiny but that destiny is strictly controlled by the bureau. They each have a handbook that details the path a person's life is taking and can tell when it starts to veer off course, which David's did the moment he found Elise on that bus. After a few questions are answered David is allowed to continue on with his life with two stipulations, first is that he never reveal anything of what he was told or witnessed (or else he will be lobotomised) and second is that he never ever see Elise again, which we know that isn't going to happen.

Anybody with a hat is a threat...anybody.

That is where the fun of the film lies for me, the constant attempts with David finding Elise and keeping her in his sight while Richardson tries endlessly to pull them apart. It is almost like an anti-cupid's arrow with these men trying with every fiber of their being to keep these two soul mates apart. It really is a strange situation and one that helped elevate the film from those horrible romantic cliches. Take their second meeting in the bus for example, as David and Elise flirt with one another and begin to form this connection there is a member from the bureau ferociously chasing them down to split them apart. The way that scene intercuts between the two is brilliant with the formulaic budding romance played out like if they get together some sort of catastrohe will befall the world. The mere fact that the bureau means no physical harm to either of them only makes it that much more interesting. I mean, why would an other worldly organization care so much about two people falling in love?

That question as well as many others like it are what kept the film going despite any lulls or jumps in logic it has, which it has plenty of both. The film is constructed in a certain way that almost makes it seem like it is repeating itself, David finds Elise then loses her, finds her again then leaves her, finds her again...etc. His choices that he makes are not questionable though so you understand why he keeps going back and forth but as the viewer it started to become rather tiresome near the end. As for the logic of it all, I can't speak to how any of this worked in the original short story but some of the conceits here felt fairly lazy. The bureau is able to see and hear almost everything in the world EXCEPT around water...there is never any explanation for this, but there had to be some way for characters to talk and plot without being found. It just seemed odd that the almighty one would give a limitation that covers most of the world to those he entrusts with his/her world.

David and Elise finally learn the truth.

Those are just minor quibbles though, the big one for me which was that one thing I mentioned at the beginning of this review that took me a while to grasp was what really got me on the fence. And to get into this I have to spoil the ending a bit, so proceed if you dare. The inevitable chase near the end with David and Elise attempting to reach the chairman  was supposed to be the huge finale that everything we had seen was working towards. And yes, that entire sequence with them running through all these different doors to different locations all over New York was pretty awesome but the outcome derailed it. When all seems lost and they are on top of that high rise awaiting their fate they are suddenly saved by...a re-write? I was totally on board with everything the film asked of me up until that point. I completely bought into David and Elise's connection to each other, the angels controlling our lives and their hats giving them their powers, but as soon as they are told that the chairman was using them as a sort of experiment and they passed the test I am not gonna lie to you, I had a giant WTF moment. The film did such a great job averting all those romance cliches up to that point and I felt kind of cheated that the solution was to give them a happily ever after ending because God re-wrote the script of life, whatever.

Even with that letdown though I had a lot of fun while watching the film. It isn't quite the unique experience I thought I was going to get but like I said, both Damon and Blunt are great together and I enjoyed just about everything with all the shenanigans involving the bureau itself. The hardest thing to say about this film though is who to recommend it to...because it is neither an action/thriller nor your typical romance film. There is a fine balance of all those ingredients to be sure but anyone not inclined to be a fan of any one of those may find themselves either lost or not caring by the time the big finale rolls around. I guess if you like your romance dramas to be ordinary and by the numbers stay away from it, but if you want something different, something that stirs the imagination while also giving you something to talk about as you leave the theater and head home then you could certainly do much much worse.



L3ader (Kami Talebi) said...

Good review, going to try to see it this weekend. As far as the narration goes of the film "putting a finger in it" is probably the real reason its hard to figure out. hahaha.

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