Aug 15, 2011

[Movies] The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)I always find it a little quirky how Hollywood in general tends to have very clear ideas of what they assume people enjoy the most. Or at the very least, their market research teams tell them a very specific story as to what they expect audiences to like and then they run with that.

This is most true whenever I encounter a short story somehow adapted into a feature-length movie. True, one could argue that the short story medium tends to provide some very intersting concepts that just beg to be developed into a movie. But by developed it does not mean to tack on a completely separate storyline on top and just loosely play around with the original premise. That's just not the same deal and yet movie makers love to indulge in this manner. And so we end up with some pretty strange films that are decent on their own but don't make as much sense when compared to the original source material.

And this is why I do my best to remain as impartial as possible when reviewing adapted works. One most try to evaluate the movie based on its merits alone, thus ignoring all previous incarnations in other formats since that's a completely different story. Plus this practice in my reviews helps prevent what I can only refer to as Fanboy Disappointment, where almost nothing can live up to the original material in the mind of a fan.

And this practice ultimately keeps me sane in these remake-heavy times that we now live in.

The Adjustment Bureau is perhaps a drama but is typically tagged as a romantic thriller movie released in 2011. It is very, very, very loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story The Adjustment Team, but the only true connections are probably in the underlying premise alone.The movie was written and directed by George Nolfi.

It is 2006 and up-and-coming Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) of New York has gained a lot of attention given his political career. While he has just failed in a senatorial bid, support for him remains strong and thus his spirits remain fairly high as he prepares to give his concession speech. But while practicing for one last time, he counters a woman hiding in one of the men's bathroom stalls and the two instinctively hit it off right away. He steals a kiss before he heads off, now rather giddy and quite inspired. This leads to a pretty phenomenal speech, one that almost certainly ensures his next attempt at the Senate in 2010.

A few weeks later, the two encounter one another again on a bus entirely by chance. He now learns that her name is Elise (Emily Blunt) and the two continue to get to know one another more and more as the bus ride continues. Nearby, a mysterious man, Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), is given a very specific order by his boss, Richardson (John Slattery). Harry needs to make sure that David spills his coffee at precisely 07:05am. But one thing leads to another and he fails in his mission, thus he fails from David and Elise in cementing the connection they made on the bus that day and Elise finally giving her number to David.

Thus this leads to an unusual chain of events as Richardson and his colleagues work to undo the "damage" done in order to get Norris back on track. And naturally he rebels against their efforts in order to stay together with Elise.

The only thing that was taken from the original short story, if only for the sake of reference and not necessarily comparison, is the existence of the Adjustment Bureau or Team as a whole. They're manipulators on a global and perhaps cosmic scale - a group of individuals (not even sure if they're human in the movie) whose sole purpose is to manipulate human existence in order to keep them on "the plan", whatever that plan may be. Their abilities are undefined by generally they can read probabilities and thus know exactly how and when to intervene to tip the scales one way or another. Plus they have near-instantaneous transport across vast distances by manipulating space-time in a way that links any two doorways together.

Now it's hard to imagine a romantic movie like this being attributed to Philip K. Dick in any way - his stories are more known for making your brain feel like it's melting quite rapidly and reality itself has begun to unravel. So I had to firmly push such expectations out of my head and just try to enjoy the alternative mind trip Nolfi had designed for us that just happened to be set in a loosely associated Philip K. Dick universe.

Matt Damon at the 66th Venice International Fi...Image via WikipediaIn some ways, I couldn't help but feel that this was a compromise attempt to get Matt Damon back into a romantic movie. After so many action pieces in the past, it seems the only way to naturally transition him back into such an emotionally-charged piece was by using the backdoor of science / speculative fiction. Fortunately, Damon and Blunt had some pretty amazing on-screen chemistry, which was obviously crucial to selling us all on this being a romance. had that failed, it would have been just another movie with Matt Damon running around.

I'm beginning to wonder what casting calls for John Slattery are like these days. I feel like when the casting team starts trying to figure out how to cast for roles like his, the qualifications tend to include "who can wear a suit pretty well?" as one of the guide questions. Of course he wears a suit all the time on the popular show Mad Men, but he also had to play dress-up when he played Will's brother on Will & Grace and even when he played a politician on Sex and the City. Oh wait, he did the suit routine on 30 Rock, too! It's not quite a typecast, I'm sure. But it does make for an interesting coincidence. He probably shows up for screen tests with a fedora in tow or something.

The movie did get to toy around with some of the more interesting questions of free will versus predetermination, the challenges of causality and the chaotic nature of human events throughout history. In that regard it was nicely balanced against the main romantic element to things. Just enough philosophical argument to keep things a bit more cerebral than most without overly boring the audience. They could have pushed this more for sure, but then I bet the studios would have felt that would have been too much of a risk in terms of their prospective female audience at the time. I'm not saying it's the right kind of thinking, but you have to admit it wouldn't be all that surprising if this had actually been the case.

The Adjustment Bureau left me feeling like I had just watched a science fiction romantic comedy of sorts by the end. I'm not quite sure it was entirely a bad thing, nor am I going to rant and rave that this movie was the greatest either. It gets 3.5 crazy teleporting door sequences that gave Jumper a run for its money out of 5.

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