Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: "The Adjustment Bureau"

The Adjustment Bureau is a film that has been floating in the public consciousness for a long time. By the time it was released in theatres at the beginning of March it felt like the film had already been around for months. This is eerily similar, in my opinion, to Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese's disappointing 2010 thriller. Both films had trailers that debuted in the fall of the and were released to lukewarm acclaim in the spring. The Adjustment Bureau has an interesting concept, dealing with freedom and fate, but the plot digs itself into a hole and is forced into a dissatisfying conclusion. It is the directorial debut of George Nolfi, who also wrote the screenplay. Unfortunately, he deserves much of the blame for playing it too safe and focusing too much on the romantic entanglements. The film stars Matt Damon, whose recent film roles in Hereafter (2010), Green Zone (2010) and The Informant! (2009) have diminished his reputation as an actor. He has failed to recapture the talent he displayed in the Bourne trilogy, though a supporting role in the Coen brothers' Oscar-nominated True Grit (2010) is a highlight on his resume. The Adjustment Bureau does have one bright spot. Emily Blunt, who stole scenes in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and gave a great starring performance in The Young Victoria (2009), is fantastic as the young mysterious woman who drastically changes Matt Damon's life in the film. It is a shame that her natural charm comes across so effortlessly on screen while Matt Damon's passion feels forced. The Adjustment Bureau sets itself up as a smart thriller but succumbs all too quickly to the traps of a generic romantic drama, and with a handful of emotionally stunted performances it becomes an all too forgettable film.

In 2006 David Norris (Damon) is a young politician who has been campaigning for a seat on the United States Senate. He loses his early lead and is practicing his concession speech in the hotel washroom when he meets a mysterious woman (Blunt). She encourages him to change his speech and to be more honest and forthcoming with his supporters. The two share a kiss before his is whisked away by his campaign manager (Michael Kelly). David's speech shocks his team but he receives an incredible amount of praise that makes him a frontrunner for the 2010 election. Later we see two mysterious men discussing how David must spill his coffee by 7:05 AM, but one man falls asleep and the time passes. This small change in events causes David to catch the bus and he finds himself sitting next to the same mysterious woman. He discovers that her name is Elise and she offers him her phone number. David then arrives at work early to discover Charlie frozen and in the midst of an examination by a group of men in suits with hats. He is taken to a warehouse where one of the men, Richardson (John Slattery), tells him about the Adjustment Bureau. They are in charge of guiding his life and ensuring things happen according to plan. Richardson goes on to say that they will go to great lengths to prevent David from ever seeing Elise again. Harry (Anthony Mackie), who failed to get David to spill his coffee, apologizes to David and warns David that if he tells anyone about the Adjustment Bureau he will be reset (lobotomized). For the next three years David takes the same bus everyday in hopes of meeting Elise. By chance he sees her walking down the street and chases after her. The two reunite only for Richardson and Harry to attempt to intervene. Richardson was unable to predict just how far David would go to be with Elise and Thompson (Terence Stamp) intervenes. He warns David that his being with Elise will prevent her from achieving her dreams as a dancer and proves this to him by causing Elise to fall and sprain her ankle while dancing. David wants to be with Elise but he is unwilling to prevent her from achieving happiness.

The plot of The Adjustment Bureau is not overly complicated. The story, which involves themes of personal choice and fate, is well conceived at the beginning. The film starts to falter when the plot becomes overly reliant on David and Elise's relationship. I believe that this occurs when Thompson's character is introduced. All of a sudden the film becomes a mess and the role of the Adjustment Bureau becomes muddled. I had a lot of trouble with the three actors within the Adjustment Bureau who have larger supporting roles. John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp have absolutely zero character or emotional development in the film. I understand that their characters are not exactly human and that they are more emotionally distant, but their lines were delivered with a robotic fluency that disturbed me. I think the film's trailer foreshadowed this problem. The Adjustment Bureau is not a terrible film, but it could have been a great one. Even if you are able to make it to the film's climax without being frustrated, the ending is just completely disappointing. George Nolfi took the easy way out. There is hardly anything more frustrating than for a film to just give up and scrap the plot to give the audience a happy ending. The themes of fate and predestination are not overly common in film. I have been interested in fatalism since my second year of university. It should be worth noting that my problem with the film's conclusion far outweigh my issues with Matt Damon's talents as an actor!

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

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