The Good: Moments of concept, Overall themes
The Bad: Pacing issues, Lack of romantic chemistry, Characters are pretty bland
The Basics: Outside the hype, The Adjustment Bureau is more a faith-based The Matrix than a clever concept film dealing with the nature of reality.
With Oscar Pandering Season and the February Doldrums behind us, with the barrage of new films coming out in theaters, I cannot think of one I was more excited to see than The Adjustment Bureau. And with a double feature last night, one might be surprised to learn that I enjoyed Battle Los Angeles (reviewed here!) more than the film I thought would be smart and cerebral. While many might be hoping that The Adjustment Bureau is the reincarnation of Inception (reviewed here!), the previews hinted to me that it might have a little more in common with Dark City (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, that bore out, but the analogy works if Dark City had been written by Evangelical Christians.
The Adjustment Bureau is not truly a huge disappointment, but it is a film that seems far too derivative of films that were truly phenomenal, from The Matrix and Dark City to Inceptio, at least in the look and feel of the movie. Unfortunately for viewers, Matt Damon's usual solid performance does not make his David Norris work in any distinctive way. This is not going to be one of his iconic characters and what makes it worse is that his onscreen chemistry with Emily Blunt is less than zero.
David Norris is running for the United States Senate for New York State and is on the fast track to become the youngest Senator ever when pictures of him mooning classmates at a class reunion surface and sink his chances of getting elected. As he prepares his concession speech in the men's room, Elise walks out and the two flirt and kiss and David is smitten. When David Norris is starting a new job, a mysterious man is given the directive to spill coffee on him at precisely 7:05, but he falls asleep in Central Park instead. As a result, David finds himself on a bus with Elise and the two hit it off again. Following that meeting, however, David is given a directive from a group of mysterious men to stay away from Elise. Having walked in on his best friend being reprogrammed to agree more with his ambitions. The men call themselves the Adjustment Bureau and they are charged with making sure humans stay on course and do not wipe themselves out. David, it appears, is fated to do great things, but Elise cannot be a part of his life.
So, David leaves her and prepares to run for Senate again until three years later, he runs into Elise again. When members of the Adjustment Bureau again surface, David decides to confound their expectations by doing his best to pursue Elise. But even a sympathetic Adjustor, Harry, is not quite enough to get David to abandon Elise. When the adjustor Thompson is called in, more of the "behind the curtain" machinations are revealed to David. He can become President if he leaves Elise and her life will be equally fulfilling. So David is left with the choice of greatness or happiness with angels on Earth manipulating him and Elise.
Right off the bat, The Adjustment Bureau reeks of an uncomfortable lack of realism. I'm not talking about the idea that fate, history and all of humanity are being manipulated by figures who control time and space. That part is fine and as a person with an imagination, it is easy to buy into that. But the idea that David Norris would be unable to get elected to the Senate because of pictures of him mooning people surface doesn't sit right. New York, California, New Jersey and Minnesota would all elect young people who did this more than the stodgy old conservative Norris is running against.
Add to that, there is a problematic aspect with the characters that kept me frustrated through the end of the movie. David learns early on about the Adjustment Bureau and when he learns of the ultimate plans of the Bureau for him and Elise, he never challenges the assumptions. In other words, he accepts that he can be great or in love and that Elise has the same potentials. Even more problematic is that David never offers Elise the choice he is making. That's terribly chauvanistic!
But beyond that, The Adjustment Bureau is plagued by stiff acting. While the film might want to be a reality-bending trip like Inception, it ends up as a faith-based story where the Adjustment Bureau is essentially agents of the divine working on Earth. While this could have worked, it doesn't in this movie because the pacing is dreadfully slow. Not just because I had come from an action-adventure film first, but because the pacing is off did I find myself bored at several points in the movie (and keep in mind, I was excited to see it!).
The final nail in the coffin of mediocrity for The Adjustment Bureau is the lack of sexual chemistry between David and Elise, at least as portrayed by Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Damon and Blunt play their meetings less like irresistible chemistry and more like two people in love with the coincidences of their recurring meetings.
Ultimately, the story is not engaging enough to want to seem more than once and its initial cleverness quickly wears off . . . long before the movie ends.
For other films featuring Matt Damon, please check out my reviews of:
All The Pretty Horses
For other film reviews, please visit my index page!
© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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