Review: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau, George Nolfi’s mostly-successful directorial debut, is part sci-fi/fantasy, part suspense/thriller – but at its heart is a true, old-fashioned love story. How much is one man willing to sacrifice…how far is he willing to go — to be with the woman he loves? Do we control our own destiny or does fate direct the story of our lives? There lies the premise in this intriguing and fast-paced flick based on Philip K. Dick’s 1954 classic-paranoid short story.

Matt Damon stars as the young and charismatic New York politician David Norris. He’s the politico flavor-of-the-moment and seemingly has everything going for him – charm, wit, good looks, and perhaps most importantly, on the cusp of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, has lots of registered voters who adore him. Strange that this man who seemingly has it all doesn’t have a lovely lady by his side, which irked me as I kept thinking how far-fetched that was – until I later realized….that is all part of “the plan.”

David “unexpectedly” meets Elise Sellas (the very beautiful Emily Blunt) in a men’s bathroom just moments before he’s about to make one of the biggest speeches of his career. Elise is a ballet dancer and unlike any woman that David has ever met. She’s not simply stunning (and available, as chance might have it), but funny, free-spirited, and very talented. There’s an immediate connection and David must be with her – it’s kismet. The two were meant to be together. Or were they? [add sound cue here: BA-BA-BUMMMM!!!]

As the two quickly fall for one another, a mysterious group of men conspire to keep the two apart, interfering in David’s daily routines. These are the men who control our fates – the men of the Adjustment Bureau, and though they may look like government agents, they are operatives of a far different kind – agents of Fate itself who do their clandestine work on behalf of The Chairman. You see, there is a remarkable future mapped out for David – a future that the Bureau desperately wants to ensure – that may lead all the way to the White House. Elise is to become a world renowned dancer. None of this happens if the two lovers end up together. A fascinating dilemma that is handled quite nimbly, as David must consider whether to give up the one woman he has ever truly loved – or go up against seemingly overpowering odds and tackle the forces of destiny.

Nolfi (author of the screenplays for The Sentinel, The Bourne Ultimatum, and the disastrous Ocean’s 12) shows that he can surely direct a big-budget Hollywood thriller. And he has made sure to get a top-notch creative team to assist him, leading with two-time Oscar winner John Toll as his cinematographer. The many exterior shots of New York City are wonderfully handled and the pacing during the action sequences happens at breakneck speed. In fact, the city itself is marvelously showcased here, taking you back to Lumet’s 1970’s city films. Jay Rabinowitz’s editing is effective and at times, razor-sharp, while 10-time Oscar nominee Thomas Newman has composed a fitting score that deftly weaves in and out from action and suspense to the more intimate scenes between the two lovers.

Matt Damon fits the bill quite nicely here, though at first I was a bit surprised to see him representing the great state of New Yawk (rather than his beloved Massachusetts). Damon, for the most part, has made a habit of selecting choice roles and strong films to star in. His political demeanor comes off as authentic, as does his love for the stunning dancer. When Fate intervenes and separates the two, David takes the same bus at the same exact time every day for three years with the hopes of seeing her yet again – and Damon illustrates this longing determination in subtle fashion, careful not to step into overly melodramatic territory. Blunt’s playfulness and spontaneity help showcase the strong chemistry between the two. She also has the slender body to play a professional dancer. The supporting cast does a fine job as well. Terence Stamp brings his magnificent presence and weighty voice to Thompson, a kind of “cleanup” guy for the Bureau. He never loses his cool and, much to his credit, doesn’t play the “villainy” role, but rather, tries to convince David of the greater good in the Chairman’s master plan. As the sympathetic Bureau agent Harry Mitchell, Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) brings an intelligent humanity to the situation and offers careful guidance to David when it is most needed.

But for all of its merits, the film comes to a crashing halt in its last few minutes. And it isn’t so much how the film ends that totally bummed me out (happy or sad – I won’t give that away), but the abrupt way in which it ended that left me feeling absolutely disgruntled and unsatisfied. This is not simply a bad ending, but, dare I say, a lazy one sans any creativity (which is even more of a letdown considering how inventive the story is to begin with). Here we are treated to an absolute deus ex machina in its most blatant form – one that would make Euripedes himself blush with shame – that we half expect to see The Chairman him/herself descend down to earth and put an end to the proceedings. I’m also not much of a stickler for continuity errors, but this film had one of the sloppiest ones in recent memory — Elise makes such a strong point of loosening David’s tie before he speaks to his constituents and in the very next shot, his tie is nicely tightened. I just couldn’t let it go. For 90 minutes, The Adjustment Bureau has all of the makings of being an excellent film – romantic, intriguing, and suspenseful. And though the lethargic storytelling and overall corniness of the finale nearly ruins all of this goodwill, I would recommend the movie to anyone who likes a smart action flick or an imaginative love story. I simply wish it ended with more of a Bang and much less of a feeble Clunk. Oh, what might have been…

Rating:   
Year:       2011
Director:  George Nolfi

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