Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Non Spoiler Review:
The Adjustment Bureau is an intriguing and interesting looking movie (at least from the trailer) featuring Matt Damon as a wunderkind senatorial candidate named David Norris, whose penchant for recklessness often puts his political ambitions into jeopardy. A chance meeting with dancer Elise (Emily Blunt), brings in higher powers, specifically John Slattery (Mad Men) as Richardson, and Anthony Mackie as Harry to interfere in events that bring them together. David is presented with a revelation about reality that sets him against the forces of destiny that are determined to keep him from Elise.

Directed by George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum, Ocean's Twelve), the film presents an interesting cosmology and centers on themes of free will versus predestination. It just goes far enough to explain some of the main ideas without really opening up how this universe works, with throwaway remarks about a chairman, and various rules and limitations to provide at least some sense that Norris isn't hopelessly outclassed by these near omnipotent beings. Are they angels? Aliens? It could really be anything, as the writer doesn't want to explain too much.

The Adjustment Bureau is a bit hard to define. It doesn't throw itself completely into the sci fi genre, but the romance angle isn't strong enough to be a big love story either. There are two big time jumps involved that dislocate these star-crossed lovers, but the focus is squarely on David Norris, and Emily Blunt is just along for the ride, sometimes being literally pulled around by the hand (see movie poster). They make a very nice couple, but their story is overshadowed by the banter and shenanigans of Slattery, and later on, Terence Stamp.

It's kind of a cop out that The Adjustment Bureau plays things so conservatively without getting into a more epic story. Like David, we only get to see bits and pieces behind the scenes and begin to ask a lot of questions that are never going to get answered.

The actors provide satisfactory portrayals, but there's nothing spectacular that will leave you talking. Slattery (complete with Mad Men hat) is channelling Roger Sterling. Terence Stamp is vintage Terence Stamp. 

Most important, The Adjustment Bureau falls victim to the storyline traps that arise whenever a seemingly omnipotent adversary is thrown into the plot—how to deal with the conclusion and actually give the protagonist a chance to succeed (especially in a movie where the notion of chance is up in the air). The climax of the film builds up to an inevitable let down, raising the audiences' expectations to a level that cannot possibly be satisfied when events lead to a peak behind the curtain. What arises is a typical Hollywood ending, when a darker twist might have fared better to give the movie some punch.

The Adjustment Bureau plays out like an extended Twilight Zone episode, and doesn't offer enough to warrant a two hour movie. The visual style and characters aren't sufficient to carry it alone, either (compared to Dark City, for example). It plays it safe and doesn't offer anything new and exciting to the ideas it presents. It's relatively entertaining if you go in with low expectations, and Stamp and Slattery are always fun, so for that reason I recommend it as a cheap renter (or better yet, wait for it on the movie channel).

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