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

The Adjustment Bureau & The Conspirator

As I stated in a previous post, in addition to trying to keep up with my own Magic Lantern, I am now writing for the abundantly productive online entertainment magazine, Brightest Young Things. A few weeks ago, I enjoyed my very first critics’ screening in Washington DC for the highly anticipated romantic thriller, The Adjustment Bureau starring Matt Damon and the ravishing Emily Blunt.

My review will be posted on Brightest Young Things when the film opens this Friday, March 4th. I will make sure to post the link to my review on the Magic Lantern FaceBook page – as a gentle reminder to any readers/fans this site has…and because I am just so excited to have my first official film review published by a media outlet. I hope there are many, many more to come. I will then make sure to publish the review here on the Lantern over the weekend.

Next up — I can’t wait to see Robert Redford’s new film The Conspirator this week! I believe it opens in theatres on April 15th, so I am thrilled to be able to see it beforehand. My friend and I visited the Crime and Punishment Museum last week in DC and there was a whole room dedicated to this film. Oddly enough, we also visited Ford’s Theatre, where President Lincoln was shot. The story of Mary Surratt, the only woman charged as a co-conspirator in the assassination trial, seems like a fascinating one to tell. Plus, Redford is a brilliant filmmaker. Check out the trailer — it looks riveting and so authentic!

Gimme 5: Clint Favorites!

The name — is Clint. An indisputable living legend and at 80 years old, his new film, Hereafter (starring Matt Damon) opens nationwide today. A 4-time Oscar winner, Clint Eastwood has done it all…actor, producer, composer, and filmmaker. His 35+ year relationship with Warner Brothers Studios has been beyond reproach and, like a fine wine, he only seems to be getting better with age. I recently posted my favorite directors in the “15 Directors Meme,” and I had to include Mr. Eastwood for his diverse canon of impressive work. I must admit that I hadn’t really thought of him as being one of our greatest directors, but with films like Mystic River, Bird, Unforgiven, and Letters From Iwo Jima, he is simply too talented to ignore.

Simply put, Eastwood is a Hollywood staple…an artist who broke into TV in the 1950’s before starring in the spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars (1964). I always look forward to seeing his movies and this week, I’d like to celebrate the man by asking you to share your 5 Favorite Clint Flicks – ones he starred in or directed…or both! With 60+ acting credits & 31 films behind the camera, there are plenty to choose from! So go ahead…make my day, and

GIMME 5 EASTWOOD FAVES!!!

I Will Start…

 

1. Absolute Power (1997)
(I love this one! Clint is a lifelong thief who is witness to a murder involving US President, Gene Hackman. Great stuff!)
2. Unforgiven (1992)
(Unlike any western you will ever see; his performance here is grand. His direction, masterful)
3. A Perfect World (1993)
(Very underrated. Eastwood is a US Marshal hunting down an escaped convict – Kevin Costner in one of his greatest roles)
4. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
(I saw this before I heard the buzz & it completely shocked me. A warm, powerful, & at times, humorous film. A mighty, unforgettable work)
5. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)
(The final installment of the “Dollars” trilogy, Clint is dynamic as “Blondie,” one of 3 gunslingers competing to find a buried fortune…a classic!)

Now It’s YOUR Turn!!!

 

First Look at Coen Brothers’ “True Grit”!!!

Well, it took long enough, but the first teaser trailer for the highly anticipated Coen Brothers film, True Grit was finally released! The movie, a bold remake of the classic 1969 film, comes out Christmas day. The mega-awesome Jeff Bridges (that is “The Dude” to you and me) steps in the mighty big boots left by John Wayne, in his Oscar-winning role as Rooster Cogburn. Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, and the young Hailee Steinfeld co-star. Interesting to notice here how this 1-minute teaser is edited. Not much focus is on Bridges at all. Rather, the spotlight is placed on newcomer Steinfeld and her story of revenge. As is always the case with the films of the Coen Brothers, the music here sets the mood/tone quite brilliantly. I also love the click of the gun as the title of the release date appears at the very end. Do I smell Oscar nominations? I can’t wait!!!

Invictus: A Truly Under-rated Sports Film

[THIS IS NOT A MOVIE REVIEW]

Yes, Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus is about much more than rugby. South African President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) uses the sport, and the nation’s team, as a means of uniting a terribly divided nation. The film opens with Mandela being released from Robben Island as a political prisoner of nearly 26 years. His release also marks the end of apartheid in South Africa, sparking mounting tension among the Afrikaners and black natives. But what I was struck by in watching this under-appreciated film was what a great sports film this actually is.

Eastwood doesn’t get bogged down with all of the politics and he is certainly not concerned with hitting you over the head repeatedly by telling us how apartheid is bad and Mandela is a wonderful human being. Any political messages that do seep in are done with careful sleight of hand and delicate subtlety. The film is concerned with one thing — how President Mandela used his country’s underdog rugby team to help bring his segregated nation together.

There are some truly wonderful, inspiring sports films (Rocky, Hoosiers, Remember the Titans, et al), but I can’t think of many that illustrate just how sport and the beauty of competition can bring an entire country together. Perhaps Miracle, which showcased one of the biggest upsets in sports history when the United States’ hockey team won the Olympic Gold Medal. The film was ok, but I felt it could’ve been much better than it was. Now I don’t know squat about rugby — but that didn’t stop me from getting swept up in the drama and the terrific run that the South African Springboks go on.

Matt Damon plays Francois Pienaar, the team’s captain. The team, made up mostly of white Afrikaners, stinks. For black South Africans, the team’s name and logo represent a dark history and they want to change that. They refuse to show the team any support, even rooting for opposing England to beat them. Meanwhile, the World Cup of 1995 is less than a year away. Mandela makes it a point of showing everyone just why it’s so important to retain the team’s name, logo and colors.

Based on true events, I was caught up in the team’s magnificent, exciting run to the World Cup. Eastwood doesn’t get caught up in the melodrama that most sports films fall victim too; no cliche film shots or trite dialogue here. He also doesn’t use the captain (Damon) as the team’s star player on the field at all. It’s a total team effort. And you don’t have to know anything about the violent sport that is rugby to enjoy the film or the many scenes where games are in progress. In a match against the heavily favored New Zealand team, Pienaar speaks to his team in a huddle over the craze of 62,000 screaming fans telling them that this is their destiny. A riveting moment and Eastwood does a brilliant job at capturing the mood and pulse of the nation during this entire match.

I think when people think of Invictus, they think of a movie about Nelson Mandela. True, the film does show what an inspirational figure he was to his people (and Morgan Freeman is pretty damn brilliant in it), but it does so in such an understated way. For me, I thought this film showed us what sport and competition is all about and that is why I feel it should not be overlooked when movie fans discuss great sports movies. It shows us both the savageness and the grace of rugby, the essense of teamwork and just what something simple like a sports team can do not just for a small town or even a state, but an entire country. Especially with the craze going on right now with the World Cup of Soccer, this is a film that any fan of sports should watch.

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