Tuesday, August 23, 2011

REVIEW: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau
Director: George Nolfi
Year 2011

The Adjustment Bureau is a surprisingly engaging romantic drama, which takes Philip K. Dick’s short story Adjustment Team and expands it into a full fledged film with fantastic results.

The film follows a politician by the name of David Norris, who recently crosses paths with an intriguing and spontaneous young lady named Elise Sellas. Striking a cord during their first meeting, Norris makes it his main focus in life to find this mysterious woman, but finds that there is a great deal of opposition that wishes the two stay apart. An all knowing and quite ethereal organization threatens Norris, forcing him to try to forget about Elise and move on with his life, or face the consequences. The supernatural tone of the film is immense, but what really makes The Adjustment Bureau stand out is the amazing performances by its central cast.

Man do I love this shoe!

Adjustment Bureau! Mount up!

Matt Damon plays the role of David Norris, and conveys him with all the conviction of a starved lover being ripped from the one he cares about most. His performance is honest and strewn with comedic touches, helping the film from delving too deeply into despair from such an oppressive concept of an all knowing and controlling organization such as The Adjustment Bureau. The lighter moments are a nice touch, also presenting the film with a lot of heart, provided from the amazing chemistry that both Damon and Elise’s character have between each other.

The character of Elise is played by Emily Blunt, and what a perfect balance of naivety and unbridled confidence she brings to her role. She brings an element of uncertainty for David Norris’ character, intriguing him to the point of obsession, though in the film’s case it is love in its purist form. Both Blunt and Damon play off each other extremely well, showcasing the perfect portrayal of the cinematic soul mate. Much of the film’s effectiveness can be credited to both of their superb performances as the couple that just wouldn’t stop fighting for each other even when up against the world.

Which one of us is in the wrong bathroom?

This city just looks depressing.

The film also does a commendable job of building up the mystery of the story. The introductions to the agents of the Adjustment Bureau are vague at best, leaving us quite in the dark on their intentions. Even when they are describing themselves and what they do, they never give out a clear answer or reasoning on how they came to be. I really loved the approach of not letting the audience in on all the secrets and leaving it to the viewer’s mind to fill in the blanks, or possibly hypothesize where the group truly originates from.

What is most interesting about this angle of approach by the filmmakers is that it sets up a rather stark duality within the narrative. There’s a great science fiction element of the story that is juxtaposed against a plethora of religious overtones, making the viewer guess if the existence of the Adjustment Bureau and its employees are an extraterrestrial presence or if there is a more divine and angelic representation of the groups creation. It’s quite a large and expansive breadth of conceptual quandaries, but I believe that the film balanced the array of possibilities for the group’s existence perfectly.

They've found the cure for baldness!

The Adjustment Bureau doing some adjusting.

What’s great about the ambiguity of the bureau’s presence is the result of these two separate and wholly different outcomes. Are they aliens, are they angels, or are they something else entirely. No matter which way you lean on the angelic or extraterrestrial forefront, each side is as captivating as the other. To the filmmakers’ credit, they really don’t slant either way on the issue, giving representation to both sides of the coin while at the same time allowing for the audience to come up with their own opinions. It’s absolutely brilliant and pays off even more in multiple viewings.

Another great aspect that comes to light out of this is the historical significance that the Adjustment Bureau has had over the human civilization. In one lengthy and informative speech by agent Thompson, played by veteran actor Terence Stamp, we find out that the bureau has had there hand in a good majority of man’s pivotal advancements and utter failures. One of the greatest examples of this is the description of the Dark Ages, which was said to have resulted with the bureau giving back man its freedom of choice. We had squandered it and lived our lives foolishly resulting in a culture crash that sent the human race into chaos, which then affectively forced the bureau to take back our free will.

Thompson also mentions the last time the bureau gave us a freedom of choice, which avalanched into the Cuban Missile Crisis. From then on the bureau has been exclusively controlling the progress of the human race. It’s a morbid theory across all boards, but one that is so creative and genuinely mind boggling that you can’t help but place it as fact within this cinema world.

Couldn't we have taken a less shitty route?

I can see up your nose Matt Damon.

With the rich back story aside, the film moves at a brisk pace rushing from one scene to the next, often skipping over years as it tells its expansive story. Initially it’s jarring to realize that you’ve missed out on literally years of the main characters lives, but I think it stresses the fact that no matter how much time has passed, the Adjustment Bureau is an almost eternal thing, able to construct these plans for individuals over lifetimes. It’s humbling to think about in the context of the film world, but very effective in the long run.

Reflecting the fast paced movement of the years flying by, Damon’s character is often running at break neck speed, blasting into the next set piece. There’s a rather effective sequence of events that have the character of David Norris, evading a group of agents while undercover as one of them. Being able to travel through secret portals that lie hidden within our own doorways, Norris crisscrosses throughout Manhattan in order to reconnect with Elise and thwart the bureau’s ever watchful gaze on their star crossed romance.

The sequence is trippy, mimicking shades of Inception, by mixing reality with a false perspective that makes us question what is real and what is manipulated to serve the bureau. It’s expertly pulled off and makes for one hell of a high octane and tense filled final moment. 

You didn't blow it up! Ahhh! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!

Matt and Emily wonder what the hell is going on?

The Adjustment Bureau is a mind bending and cinematic altering smorgasbord of goodness, providing a stellar cast with an outstanding story of love, faith, and fate. The dueling elements of the Bureau’s origins adds a much needed spice to the proceedings and adds another layer to the film that greatly expands the breadth of the film’s history.

The direction moved at a brisk pace, never faltering or taking a false step, providing a film that really can sweep you away if you let it. If you’re looking for a science fiction film deals a heavy blow of romance and intrigue, then look no further. It’s been labeled a chick flick sci-fi film, but damned if it’s not the best chick flick sci-fi film out there. Adjust your preconceptions and check it out.

 5 out of 5 stars              Sci-Fi Romance At Its Finest!

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