Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

In “The Adjustment Bureau,” Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star in a romantic metaphysical thriller that aims to provoke thought about free will. Damon stars as Senator David Norris, whose up and coming political career continues to be at the mercy of his bad habits. Along the way, he meets Elise, a free spirit of a woman whom he has an instant attraction with. However, due to a fluke, Norris stumbles upon a group of men who appear to be in the habit of mind control.

The film is based off of a story by Philip K. Dick and it sets up some great questions with obvious metaphor for free will. That is the strength of this otherwise mediocre affair. It’s not that “The Adjustment Bureau” is a bad movie so much as it feels mundane. With the topic, actors involved, and set piece of New York City, it feels like we have a movie that could do so much more. Thrilling chases end up feeling pedestrian, revelations come quick and fast, and tension rarely exists.

Plot questions begin to arrive left and right – Like, why for all their supposed special powers do the Bureau employees so rarely seem to use them? (Mild spoiler) In one scene, a character is supposed to have coffee spill on him to distract the path of his day. When things change, a bureau member chases after the character, only to use his special powers at the last minute. Why not just use them from the outset? There are many more, but my questions would spoil too much of the plot.

Also troubling is how much of a wasted potential the aesthetic of the film is. The Bureau employees look awesome – the top hats, trench coats, and slick suit make them potentially menacing and imposing. Yet, they are framed so blandly – no shadows are used, nor are there ever interesting camera angles. Perhaps it is the Melville (Le Samourai, Army of Shadows) lover in me, but after seeing what he does with these types of characters I now have come to expect all other filmmakers to make good use of it. It doesn’t help that the music is bizarrely out of place and will find itself detracting more and more from the movie as time goes on. It’s not that the visual or music aesthetic is ever outright bad – just bland.

Yet, the movie’s interesting questions are what kept me interested. Once Terrence Stamp shows up, I suddenly was in the grip of the questions. They are interesting because they are clearly about how we see God involved in the affairs of man. Of particular note is some dialogue between Damon and Stamp about God’s intervention and then leaving mankind before the Bureau has to step in again. Once certain questions are raised, it left me with an immediate answer based on my worldview. I wanted to take the concepts further – what about mans access to God or the moving of His heart through prayer? The questions raised are certainly the films strength.

When my wife and I began discussing the movie afterwards, she seemed to be taken in by the love story between David and Elise. For what is there, the chemistry is believable even if the time jumps (3 years later, etc) feel less like years and more like days. Still, I appreciated that the leads seemed connected to each other. Otherwise the whole motivation of the story would have fallen apart.

Bottom line, this is an entirely mediocre adventure from a visual and aural perspective but one that is interesting for the mind (and possibly soul). The film certainly attracted its fair share of attention – cameos are littered throughout the film. If the tension could have been thicker, this could have been a great film. As it is, I can only get so excited. Then again, I watched “Hunger” by Steve McQueen earlier in the day (a visual masterpiece rife with visceral tension and passionate acting). Perhaps that was the Bureau’s way of affecting my viewing of this film.

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