Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"The Adjustment Bureau"

The Adjustment Bureau - Written and directed by George Nolfi, starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and Terence Stamp - Rated PG-13

The Adjustment Bureau is entertaining and compelling but, more importantly, it raises some interesting questions.

The Adjustment Bureau looked like an interesting film when the trailers debuted…then the film was delayed for quite some time, which is never a good sign. Delays don’t always equal disaster and, fortunately, The Adjustment Bureau is an example that a delayed film can be a decent film. It helps that it is also an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. To be honest, that can be good or bad as well, but it turns out to be one of the better ones. It’s no Blade Runner, but it’s certainly no Paycheck either.

The film is about David Norris (Matt Damon), an aspiring politician who meets his dream girl, Elise (Emily Blunt). The problem is that he was only supposed to meet her one time. When he runs into her again, it gets the attention of the titular Bureau. Everything in the world of this film is set to a plan written by a creator-type figure known as the Chairman. When the plan isn’t followed, adjusters are brought in. They have the ability to freeze time, travel through a subspace network, and mess with the physics of the regular world. Think of them as the destiny police. Despite these adjusters, David is determined to be with Elise.

This makes The Adjustment Bureau a kind of romantic sci-fi film, which is an interesting label, to say the least. The film works on each level, though. The chemistry between the two leads is palpable and the characters are likable and sympathetic. Simply put, you want things to work out for these two. On the sci-fi end, there is enough visual flair to keep things interesting and the whole idea of the Bureau is left open enough to lead to some of that deep conversation that all sci-fi films aspire to.

Hard core sci-fi fans may be let down by the film’s toned down style, though. The Adjustment Bureau is not a flashy film at all. The closest bit of style it attempts comes by way of the subspace travel the adjusters use. They can open a door in one location and travel to a completely different area. This aspect leads to some impressive sequences and individual shots, especially when the doors are left open for a bit. But the film doesn’t dwell on these visuals very often; they are just part of the story.

The film also stays away from going too deep into the story behind the Bureau. There are hints here and there, but the bulk of the mystery is left up to the viewer. That may mean the film doesn’t create much of a world behind the “real world,” but that is not a bad thing. It’s refreshing to see a sci-fi film that tries to take place in a real world. To be clear, though, there are definitely things happening in this film that are in no way realistic or even backed up by science.

The Adjustment Bureau, based on the descriptions above and especially from the trailers, may seem like a deadly serious film. It is, in fact, surprisingly light-hearted at times. John Slattery (“Mad Men”) looks like a menacing agent in the previews, but in reality he serves as a bit of comic relief for the film. It turns out that these adjusters not only look like white collar workers from the 1950s, they also act like them. Slattery complains about waiting for the case of a career and worries about exceeding his “ripple quota.” This light tone makes the film much easier to accept and makes it quite enjoyable as well.

Lighthearted as The Adjustment Bureau is at times there are still heavy questions asked. There aren’t really any answers to those questions and that is actually the way it should be. Do people actually enjoy films that end with a man in a chair explaining the world to the main characters and/or the audience (I’m looking at you, sequel to groundbreaking sci-fi film)? Films like that insult the audience’s intelligence. Scratch that, they insult the imagination of the audience. The Adjustment Bureau is interesting and entertaining because, in the end, the film is up to you. Some might actually call that lazy screenwriting, and sometimes it is, but when the questions you’re left with at the end are interesting, then that means the filmmakers (in this case writer/director George Nolfi) have accomplished something.

This is a film that is much more about ideas than it is about acting, but the leads are very good here. Damon can carry a movie in his sleep these days, but he livens this one up with his charismatic work…it’s easy to believe he is a politician. Emily Blunt does a fine job opposite Damon. She has to handle the more emotional scenes and she is very believable. Slattery, as mentioned above, gives a fun performance. And Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp add sympathy and a bit of menace, respectively.

The Adjustment Bureau isn’t a sci-fi classic, but it will go down as one of the good Philip K. Dick adaptations, and that’s saying quite a bit. As for the moment, it’s exceedingly rare to see a movie in a multiplex that is willing to ask deep questions that you get to answer for yourself. Take advantage of that and check this one out.

Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)

I dug the whole politician aspect of the story, especially the speech Damon gives when he decides to quit playing a politician and speak the truth to an audience.

The idea of someone having a ripple quota is amusing. It makes you wonder how much is too much. Slattery messed with a lot of lives while he was chasing Damon. I loved that Damon even commented on the fact that he was causing an insane amount of ripples by diverting so many taxis. I guess it all just confirms the idea that some humans are simply much more important than others and it doesn't matter what happens to most of us in the "plan."

I also liked the fact that the Bureau was not all controlling and, in some cases, they were just plain inept. Interesting to see a secret society that controls the world that doesn't have total control.

The hats... I was wondering why Damon was rocking the old hat in the previews and posters and whatnot. It made the film look like it took place sixty years ago and it surprised me when that wasn't the case. Glad that there was a reason for the hat. But it does sound kind of stupid when you have to put it in words: a magic hat allows you to travel through subspace.

The bureaucracy was almost like something out of The Hudsucker Proxy what with the way the adjusters talked about kicking problems "upstairs." It just added to the whole comedic element of the film.

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