March 6, 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Some say that Hollywood doesn't get Dick on the big screen. That may be true, Phillip K. Dick's stories may not be among the easiest to adapt from page to screen, but that doesn't stop them from trying. You could probably argue that they will never top or come near to Blade Runner, based on the short story "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Admittedly, I really should read more of his work, but that i an issue for another time. This time around we get The Adjustment Bureau, based on the short "The Adjustment Team." Does it work as a movie? Yes, I have to say it does; however, I cannot speak to its success as an adaptation, not having read the story.

On the surface I have to say that this movie shouldn't work. I could tell that there were many bored theatergoers around me. Not that I could see them, but it was a sense I had of the collective reaction. I, however, was quite caught up in what was going on up on the screen. The movie may not have dug as deeply as it could have or as I may have liked, but it did succeed on an emotional and intellectual level for me. It had the chemistry of its leads to fill the emotional void while there were other ideas of fate, love, free will, spirituality, and politics bubbling beneath the surface just looking for a mind to take root in.

Some have described The Adjustment Bureau as Bourne meets Inception. That might work as shorthand for the masses, but it is not the best representation of what the movie is. If you are looking for comparison films, I would put it more at the crossroads of Dark City, Sliding Doors, and Eternal Sunshine of th Spotless Mind. It is more than an action film whose antagonists are attempting to change someone's mind, it is much bigger that that, grander in scope. It is more about fate and either excepting it or taking on the consequences of fighting for a different choice.

As the movie opens we are introduced to David Norris (Matt Damon), a New York City politician on a campaign for congress. On election night he seeks a moment of respite in an apparently empty men's bathroom. While he struggles with his next step, who should emerge from a stall but Elise Sallas (Emily Blunt). This chance meeting triggers a new and unexpected chain of events.

Unexpected by whom? The Adjustment Bureau, of course. A organization of men wearing charcoal suits and snappy hats whose job it is to keep things moving forward according to plan. Any deviation must be corrected, such as this meeting between David and Elise. The problem is that in this reality the path to correcting the deviation results in the revealing of the bureau's existence to David. Now, David's mind is blown as he is given the ultimatum of giving up on his search for Elise and continue along the path that has been written for him.

For his part, David now knows of said plan and decides he isn't about to cater to the whim of this so-called plan. He feels something special with Elise, like he knows they are supposed to be together. Elise feels the same, just not in as active a way (not knowing of the bureau). What develops is a chase between David and Elise and suited agents as they try to forge ahead in a way that runs counter to the plan.

The movie just really works. Perhaps it does not take the implications in as a daring a fashion as they could, but the quality is still there. It plays out as a microcosm of the bigger picture of forging our own paths and not simply taking the easy route.

Damon and Blunt have an easy chemistry that makes their romance all the more believable. What is also interesting is that while the bureau agents are clearly the antagonist of the picture, they are not malevolent. Sure, their methods may be a little sloppy at times and like any structured organization they do not always have all of the information, instead blindly following their directives, but their intentions are not to hurt. It is a pretty interesting way to structure the movie. Your first reaction would be to rail against them, but there is something bigger going on.

The Adjustment Bureau is the sort of movie that takes some big ideas and allows them to be digested in a different fashion from say a lecture. It presents ideas where you can see th positives from both sides. I think the key is in trying to find the middle ground.

The movie was written and directed by George Nolfi. He is a first time feature director who was previously involved in the screenplays for Ocean's Twelve, The Bourne Ultimatum, and The Sentinel. Hit directing displays a nice visual flair and the writing is pretty tight, allowing the concepts and the characters time to develop. I love the look he brought the movie. It has a combination of a modern aesthetic as well as the 1950's with the retro look of the bureau agents and the interesting use of lighting, angles, and architecture.

This is a film that moves at a nice pace and has a blend of action, intrigue and romance with surprising moments of humor. The Adjustment Bureau delivers on many fronts, and while not perfect I must say that it hits more often than it misses and is a welcome piece of intelligent film making.

Highly Recommended.

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Atlanta Roofing said...

Liked that it was a weird blend of a few different genres but totally agree it couldn't pick one that it primarily wanted to be apart from a love story and it doesn't delve into the fate/free will stuff very deeply.

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