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3.09.2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Based on a 1954 Philip K. Dick story called "Adjustment Team," George Rolfi's The Adjustment Bureau (2011) is an uneven effort that, ultimately, adds up to little more than an engaging afternoon entertainment. It attempts to wrestle with some interesting metaphysical subjects--namely the influence of chance on human development (and identity) and the fallacy of free will.

Rolfi wrote the screenplay and directed the film. He's a bit better at creating an enjoyable pace for the film than executing a crisp expository narrative. In places, the backstory is just so much information dumping that it becomes a distraction. If David Norris (Matt Damon in a strong performance) is really the man the film depicts him to be in the opening ten minutes, then why not allow him to discover for himself how manipulative this shadow agency is at creating our reality? I think the film's weakest segment, its second act, would have been much better for a bit more of Norris in the wilds (so to speak) of Bureau protocol.

Rolfi jumps ahead three years just like that, and the story's best moments, the onscreen chemistry between Emily Blunt's Elise and Norris, are nullified by the lost time. Are you telling me this up-and-coming politician couldn't marshal his considerable resources to locate her? And his silence throughout that time is utterly absolute? I would have liked a bit more in the interim here, as the pulse-pounding conclusion of the film would have made more sense if Norris had vigorously challenged what he "knew." That was his character, after all.

It's a love story, made compelling and entertaining by the delightful chemistry shared between Damon and Blunt. Damon does a lot of that half-moon upside down smile of his; Blunt can bat those eyes with the best of them. They are undeniably charismatic together on camera. The kiss they share on the rooftop in the final act is simply wonderful: a circular shot of them together as forces beyond their control converge. If only we could stay stong together in this moment, then we'll be safe, that shot says.

Good stuff.

The soundtrack/score complements the action nicely and, as I said above, the film moves pretty well. I had a minor quibble with Anthony Mackie's performance as Harry Mitchell: he seemed lethargic in such an integral role. Terence Stamp was delightfully ominous as Thompson.

At its core, this is a classic test of virtue: love or power? For a film that asks such an important question, and with such great central performances at its heart, it's too bad that the rest of it falls just a bit short. B/B- overall...

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