Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Guest Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

As happens from time to time, a reader and collegue was able to attend an early screening of an upcoming release and was willing to send his thoughts along. This time, Brandon Peters offers a spoiler-free look at The Adjustment Bureau, which opens this Friday.

The Adjustment Bureau
99 minutes

by Brandon Peters

The Adjustment Bureau is an adaptation from the Philip K. Dick short The Adjustment Team. A Philip K. Dick fan am I, however I have not read any of his shorts collections. So, I cannot supply comparisons to the source material. While The Adjustment Bureau is not quite a film spawned from Dick’s works like Blade Runner, Total Recall or A Scanner Darkly, it is nowhere close to the likes of Next or Imposter.

George Nolfi makes his directorial debut on this feature (as well as writes the screenplay). Nolfi’s previous works include the lesser chapters of trilogies like The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean’s 12(also shows he’s a bit familiar with his lead actor). When looking at his resume, The Adjustment Bureau marks Nolfi’s finest script to date and a good directorial debut.

I tried to write a spoiler free plot synopsis on my own accord, however, I think Universal did a better job:

Do we control our destiny, or do unseen forces manipulate us? Matt Damon stars in the thriller The Adjustment Bureau as a man who glimpses the future Fate has planned for him and realizes he wants something else. To get it, he must pursue the only woman he's ever loved across, under and through the streets of modern-day New York. On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt)-a woman like none he's ever known. But just as he realizes he's falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart. David learns he is up against the agents of Fate itself-the men of The Adjustment Bureau-who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together. In the face of overwhelming odds, he must either let her go and accept a predetermined path.

When the film begins, it feels almost like an astonishingly good romantic comedy. Yes, the agents of the bureau are looming, but their mysterious agenda is overshadowed by some terrific writing and performances by the two leads. The attraction works, the dialogue is great, and Damon and Blunt share great chemistry. The first 20 minutes include a great exchange in a men’s restroom and on a bus. We are later treated to more great moments after our key plot device is revealed.

Events and actions in The Adjustment Bureau work better than most science fiction movies because it lets us know that they make the rules. However, some rules could be better explained or give us reason as to how it came to be that way. The rules work when explaining the love between Norris and Elise in the short amount they have been together, but a lot of the rules and regulation of the agents of the bureau feel MacGuffin-esque (more integral to the characters, but not the viewer). The viewer deserves to get a little more information/revelation as to their rules/agenda.

A side note I must throw in because it was very enjoyable to me; Emily Blunt uses her native accent in the film. No, that’s not amazing, she’s done it before. But, the film doesn’t waste time or force any expository dialogue as to why someone in America is speaking with a foreign accent. You don’t get this much at all in mainstream films. Normally the performer shelves the accent or there is a line “my mother moved here when I was…” or “I came to America because my favorite dancer…” This little bit, that I’m sure most wouldn’t care or notice, was a plus for me.

John Slattery and Terrence Stamp deliver fine, if pedestrian for them, performances. By creation, the agents are supposed to not show too much emotion. However, the role of agent Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) could have been a star making performance. The character is very important and prominent throughout the film. Instead, Mackie plays it too low-key and monotone. He is only useful because of what was written for him to say on the page.

Universal is selling this as an action/thriller with some sci-fi undertones. The movie is far from. It’s just a low key science fiction thriller. There’s a chase in the end, but no one is ever in a life or death situation and nobody blows up or shot at. This film is more in tune to that of a Gattaca type of sci-fi piece as opposed to a Total Recall. I should note, while it was obviously in late production or post-production during July, this is exactly the type of film a movie like Inception should spawn. Not a Total Recall remake.

The Adjustment Bureau is a fine low-key sci-fi thriller that could be more, but doesn’t hurt because of that. If you’re looking for something good to see this weekend at the theater, definitely pick this one. However, the film will make a great rental if you’re the patient or are unsure whether to give this a go or not.

Grade: B

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