Sunday, March 6, 2011


"The Adjustment Bureau" (2011)

What starts off as a deft blend of romantic drama, eerie sci-fi thriller and thought-provoking philosophical fantasy, "The Adjustment Bureau" eventually loses its footing. Written and directed by George Nolfi, the movie is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick about a team of adjusters who are in control of everyone's fate as written to a certain plan. In the movie, these adjusters are all white collar business men wearing snappy suits and fedoras. They work in some office building that may or may not exist in everyone else's reality. And they are careful to not reveal whose plan they're exactly following perhaps as the screenplay's attempt to not bring religion into the equation.

The introduction of the adjustment bureau brings a lot of fascinating questions to the table about chance, fate and free will. These questions, however, get muddled into a confusing expository approach to the film's own mythology rather than allowing the audience's own take on the questions to unfold in their mind. I started having my own questions that became more distracting than fun or engaging like, say, "Inception." The logic of the adjustment bureau itself has too many holes in it which breach into the story to make too many holes there, as well.

Matt Damon plays a congressional candidate from New York named David Morris who's on the verge of losing his election. To mentally prepare for his speech, he enters what he expects to be an empty men's restroom only then to meet a woman hiding out in one of the stalls, Elise (Emily Blunt). The two of them hit it off immediately almost unbelievably so. They are two people who, though strangers, feel chemistry between each other they can't deny; they're a perfect match. Realizing this almost instinctively, they embrace each other and kiss. Their story begins.

The two of them meet again on a bus by pure chance. Here they exchange phone numbers and plan to see each other again, except the adjustment bureau has other plans. David gets apprehended by two men, Mitchell and Richardson (Anthony Mackie and John Slattery in equally affecting roles), after seeing behind the curtain of their establishment. Now aware of their existence--the existence of these strange guardian angel figures--Richardson warns David of the consequences of telling anyone. And the consequences of seeing Elise again because, according to the plan, they were never supposed to meet again. For both of their sakes, Richardson says, he must never see her which is something David refuses to accept.

In the spirit of the "Bourne" movies, Damon's character spends a lot of the remainder of the movie running away from people and watching over his shoulders. It becomes a game of cat-and-mouse that David and Elise are willing to play because they feel they're destined for each other, but it gets repetitive. This is especially true by the time a more senior member of the bureau shows up, Thompson (a stern-looking Terence Stamp), who brings his job to a whole new level of grandeur over his colleagues to the point of being preposterous.

There's good chemistry between Damon and Blunt's characters, but there isn't that much of them actually on screen together--or at least enough to create a true connection to their plight. Instead, I just began feeling bad for the flustered and frustrated Elise as David desperately tried to explain why he was running through magical door portals through the city wearing a funny-looking fedora.

There were some promising implications made early on, but despite fine acting and swift production, the filmmakers decided to settle for something that fell to pieces beneath its lofty ambition.

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