Thursday, March 10, 2011

"The Adjustment Bureau" - REVIEW

When The Adjustment Bureau's release date was pushed back not once, but twice, it brought to mind memories of The Wolfman (which coincidentally also starred Emily Blunt). Yet upon release, I have to wonder what all of the fuss was about. While it's no masterpiece, it's far from being a dog. It's actually a rather solid, entertaining, and even thought-provoking film about fate and free will.

Opening in the final stages of an election year, the film opens with Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) running for Senator of New York. After a silly scandal basically destroys his chances of winning, he steps into a bathroom to prepare his speech, where he runs into Elise (Emily Blunt). The two strike up a conversation and click immediately, before Elise leaves. Three years pass, and the pair meet again on a bus. This, however, was not according to plan. An agent (Anthony Mackie), having fallen asleep, misses his orders to spill coffee on David's shirt (which would cause him to go home, change, and miss the bus with Elise on it). And as we can tell by the cryptic shifting book that the agent has, this isn't what someone/something wants.

It has all the makings of a dizzying conspiracy thriller, and I have no doubt that conspiracy nut jobs will go insane over the movie. But George Nolfi's adaptation of Philip K. Dick's short story takes a surprising turn. David and Elise aren't merely thrown together for the sake of having conflict. The characters (and the actors playing them) have real chemistry together. So while the presence of the titular Bureau is almost always felt (David alone knows that they're out there and can't tell anyone), the love story at the center never becomes a simple plot device. It's not perfectly executed, but it works because the film is able to balance it with the more thriller-ish aspects of the story. Still, there are a few bumps in the script. David's reaction to news of Elise after an 11-month gap sounds more like it's only been a few days since they've seen each other. The two never get to spend enough time together to make you believe that they're truly in love; it's more that they appear to have good chemistry and a strong initial attraction.

As for the thriller/supernatural side of the story, Nolfi and crew bring it to life with a minimum of special effects, which actually makes it all the more believable. There's lots of running through magic doors, and Thomas Newman's energetic score helps keep the (remarkably clutter-free) chases lively. The simplicity of it all actually works in the film's favor, even if certain rules seem to be there for the sake of aiding the plot's limitations (water hinders the agent's ability to track people...just because). And while the script does raise questions of free will, control, and chance, it doesn't always answer them completely. Were the film more one-sided and focused the agents at work, it might have allowed for more complete answers, but as it is, The Adjustment Bureau is generally more content to answer questions only pertaining to David and Elise, and how their being together will destroy both of their career paths.

But even though the film may not live entirely up to its ambitions, it's not entirely without success. With the exception of a few too-quick jumps in story, it flows well and the romance aspect never bogs down the "bigger" story, rather it enriches it. Despite the potential for earth-shattering revelations, the film stays grounded in its central story, and resists the urge to go all-out with effects. It's not out to be an entirely foreboding story, but is instead examining two sides (though not exactly evenly) of a weighty idea: total free will vs. necessary control. It's no philosophical masterpiece, but as a entertaining romantic thriller with some heart and some brains, it's a thoroughly engaging film, albeit a bit minor.

Grade: B-

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