Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waited for DVD: The Adjustment Bureau - Free will is terrific, except when it's really destiny in disguise.

The Adjustment Bureau
105 minutes
rated PG-13

by Scott Mendelson

There are any number of movies that make less sense after you think about them then they did as you were watching them.  But The Adjustment Bureau is not only a movie that makes little sense as your watching it, but basically betrays its own philosophy in the process.  Since this is a DVD review, I'm going to be more spoilery than I otherwise would be for a pre-theatrical glance.  There are three major problems with the picture that render the well-intentioned romantic thriller relatively useless as both an emotional entertainment and as an intellectual exercise.  So, if I may forgo the usual plot synopsis, let me cut to the chase...

A) The film espouses free will versus destiny as a constant moral through-line.  The core conflict is that Matt Damon wants to date/screw/marry Emily Blunt, but the all-powerful Adjustment Bureau (basically fate/God in tailored suits and fedoras) will not allow it.  Sounds okay, but the film also makes clear at several points in the second act that Blunt and Damon were at one time 'destined' to be together before something or another altered their paths.  The explanation does give us a reason to theoretically root for Damon and Blunt to be with each other, since absent an explanation Damon comes off like a passive-aggressive stalker who can't leave well enough alone.  But if you pay attention, you realize that the only reason that Damon is so drawn to Blunt (other than the fact that she looks like Emily Blunt) is that both characters are feeling lingering effects of their once-destined chemistry.  So it's really not free will, it's one character relentlessly pursuing another character because they were (at one point) destined to be together.  So much for choice.

B) The only character in this film who has any kind of free will is Matt Damon's David Norris.  As a young and allegedly reckless politician who may or may not eventually become president, he at various points of the film decides to forgo or pursue his fate depending on what the plot requires.  But what of Ellise Sallas (Emily Blunt), the ballet dancer who may or may not be destined for greatness in her own field?  She is not only as the mercy of the Adjustment Bureau, she is also at the mercy of David's whims.  She is not a co-lead or even a true supporting character, but rather 'the girl' to be pursued.  Throughout the film, she is yo-yo-ed about, being wooed by David, being dumped by David, being wooed and then being dumped again.  She does not engage in a single proactive action in the entire film, but rather is pulled along (literally by the hand in the film's climax) according to whatever David decides at any given moment.  She is not a character, but rather a prop.

C) So when David confronts her right before the chase finale and more-or-less spills the divine beans, Ellise basically drops any and all good sense and basically allows herself to be whisked away on a journey to... where exactly?  Putting aside the fact that Blunt basically buys Damon's fantastical story and immediately forgives his plot-mandated cruelty with barely a second thought, what exactly is Damon's ultimate goal?  As you'll know if you've seen the trailers, the finale of the film involves Damon and Blunt running through various 'portal doors' and ending up in one fantastical New York location (Yankee Stadium, the Statue of Liberty, etc) after another.  But to what end?  The film gives us no clear indication of how Damon intends to outrun or hide from his supernatural pursuers, so the chase has absolutely no momentum or rooting interest.  And frankly, for much of the film, I was rooting for the would-be antagonists to catch his ass and set fate right again.

So in the end we have a film that professes to love free will while crafting a romance that is at-least partially motivated by destiny.  We have a film that champions proactive actions, but only for the male lead and with no attempt to give his would-be romantic partner any thoughts of her own.  To watch The Adjustment Bureau is to be just a little bored.  To think about The Adjustment Bureau is to be annoyed.  The only question I'm left pondering is how they resisted the urge to cast Frank Langella.  My wife kept expecting to see him pop up and frankly so did I.  Oh, and every single one of the critics/pundits and studio executives who compared this film (yes, that means you too Total Film) to Inception was either drunk, distracted by their cell phone, or otherwise completely oblivious to the film that they were in fact supposed to be watching.

Grade: C

1 comment:

Alicia said...

I LOVED this review. my roommates have been talking for weeks about how "amazing" this movie is. i finally watched in tonight and wasn't impressed. i was left feeling like the movie contridicted it's self several times. i also felt left with lots of questions. Not to mention the notion that it was SO important to keep them apart, then all of a sudden it's not anymore?? what changed? why isn't it that important anymore?


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