As we were sitting in the packed theater waiting for The Adjustment Bureau to start, I was already half-writing this review in my head.
It wasn’t so long ago that another multiple-Oscar nominated movie put one of those “question your reality” vibes in the air. It’s turning into a trend. Of course, by creating such a “mind-bending” trip, internet buzz is generated. Themes of the film are debated by millions of internet philosophers who seem to think that this type of movie is attempting to pull back a bigger curtain; as if the movies themselves go beyond fiction to give us answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything.
If your philisophical thriller is produced correctly, this community will add it to a must-watch list, forums will discuss it and debate on truths and falsehoods revealed or obscured by the film, and your grosses will stay up because of this.
I accept that Inception was worthy of an Oscar nod and I was glad it won for Best Cinematography. It was a visually stunning movie and, as I mentioned in my review, you couldn’t argue with the cast or the direction. For me, it was rather meh overall and was certainly not my favorite of 2010. It would sneak in to my top ten of that year only because it had potential, squandered though it may have been.
My problem with Inception was that the twist was far too apparent from the beginning of the movie. This allowed numerous amounts of morons to “call it”, thus empowering said morons and making them feel as though calling the ending of Inception was some sort of great feat. This is, of course, in addition to the reality-questioning morons who were suddenly blessed with the idea that life is all just their own lucid dream. I would refer these people to Cartesian philosophy if I thought they would do more with a volume of Descartes than chew on the cover like a toddler.
That being said, The Adjustment Bureau can be described as Inception minus the elaborate action sequences, minus the incredible cinematography, minus the powerful cast, and minus the visionary director. That’s right, kids, it’s more of a love story than anything else. Hell, it’s even minus the twist, but we’ll talk about that later.
George Nolfi, the writer and director, has his first big outing here. Previously, he’d worked mostly in television and his biggest achievement was penning the screenplay which would later become Ocean’s Twelve.
He adapted the story from a Philip K. Dick short called “Adjustment Team”, expanding it to an hour-and-a-half long romp, which, when looking at the runtime and considering the subject matter, seems a bit short. Trust me, it certainly doesn’t feel short when you’re in the theater. You could tell they were stretching for time in spots.
Matt Damon turns in a typical Matt Damon performance. He plays David Norris, the stereotypical politician with a working-class background – he originally hails from Brooklyn where he lost his family to various untimely deaths and winds up alone, working hard to get to the position he holds. This, of course, makes the character not only relatable to the registered voters of his world. It also makes it easier for the viewer to root for a politician character to succeed in the modern real world climate. Damon makes you wish that there were politicians in the real world with the same sort of gusto, but most movie stereotypical protagonist politicians do.
Emily Blunt plays his opposite number, Elise, a dancer who they want to portray as a strong female lead. Unfortunately, she falls directly into the stereotype of the desirable love interest, almost as if they went overboard making this character the perfect woman; an attractive, funny, flexible, artistic, witty, independent but still sort of fragile, brunette with a British accent (read last as “cherry on top”). Her character is a reflection of every study of men’s desires in an ideal “keeper” in the last twenty years. Boring.
Their characters fit together almost too well. You’re compelled to root for them to get together because it is overly apparent that they should be together if only because of the stereotypes they represent.
This perfect relationship is the crux of the movie. The titular Adjustment Bureau, the people behind the scenes who make sure that lives go according to “plan”, do not want these two to hook up because it causes too many deviations to what they have in store for the both of them.
You’re immediately thrust in to the supernatural aspect when Harry (Anthony Mackie), the case worker who has been overseeing David’s life, misses a cue given to him by his higher-ups which would have kept David’s plan on course.
Quickly, you’re swept into the strange business-like world of the Bureau. Agents carry 6×8 Moleskines which contain an ever-changing, maze-like life plan with a current path represented by a green line. Every twist or turn that path takes represents a decision and it’s the job of the Bureau to ensure that those decisions lead to the preferred outcome.
You’re later lead to the fact that the writing of The Plan is left in the hands of The Chairman, who, when referred to by members of the Bureau, is usually accompanied by a skyward pointed finger or a glance to the air. So much for subtlety.
Within thirty minutes, you find out that Bureau agents “have been called angels” among other expunged facts by one of the Bureau’s own members. Sigh. Not even the chance of a twist. The first act revelation is done so that the audience can concentrate less on the supernatural aspect and more on the love story. It changes the question from “what is this Adjustment Bureau?” to “why do they want to keep David and Elise apart?”
Answer most commonly given: Because that’s what’s in the plan.
Add a bunch of build up, including some leeway given to the couple by the Bureau while they recruit a more experienced agent, “The Hammer” Donaldson, (Terrence Stamp) to crush their romance where no other normal agent could.
Lead in to the predictable speech about their staying together leading to both of them becoming complacent with their lives and not going on to become great in accordance with their individual plans (David is told that he will someday become President if he stays on plan, BIG SHOCKER!!!).
Of course, this being what they’ve dubbed a “romantic thriller”, love has to conquer all and, in the end, it predictably does.
No twists. No big reveal. No insane action-packed, explosive-laced climax. Just another lame predictable ending, but one I won’t spoil in case you’re cuckoo about things like that.
To all of the normal people out there, I’m not going to tell you not to see this movie. I’m just going to say it’s not worth it while it’s in theaters. Save your money for the gigantic blockbuster summer on the horizon. Or, if you must go to the movies this weekend, see Rango instead. I hear it’s getting great reviews. Just trust me. Let this one go.
If you’re one of those people who question their reality based on The Matrix or Inception, you’ll find yourself walking out of that theater doing the same about your destiny. But, honestly, if you are a reality questioner, I can tell you all about your destiny without a 6×8 Moleskine or a hat. Spoiler alert: it’s not exactly a bright future.
Bidula’s Last Word: 5/10 (originally 4/10, but Terrance Stamp being evil in a movie is an automatic +1)
Keep fighting the good fight.