Thursday, 10 March 2011

FILM REVIEW: The Adjustment Bureau

I haven't had a good rant in ages, so special thanks to The Adjustment Bureau for at least giving me the impetus to write a review. I wish it could be for fonder reasons, but no, there's a lot to get exasperated about, so here goes.

A quick explanation: the film is based on the Philip K Dick short story 'The Adjustment Team' which by my knowledge only covers one scene of the film - where Matt Damon accidentally walks into the world of the Adjustment personnel and they track him down to explain what he saw, and swear him to secrecy or have his mind erased. The rest of the film has been put together and elaborated by George Nolfi, who also directs his first film after being a producer on the Bourne trilogy (hence the presence of Matt Damon). What he's constructed from the arresting premise is a story about two people, who for reasons never directly made religious/spiritual have been assigned specific life paths which are 'adjusted' as time passes. In this case the two people meet and want to be together, but their paths disallow this connection, so the team do all they can to subtly alter their every day lives so they will never see each other again. But the man (Matt Damon) can't forget about the girl (Emily Blunt) and after realising a strange force is at work to deliberately keep them apart, he starts fighting the system to make sure he can stay with her forever.

One of my favourite films of all time is The Butterfly Effect (yes, hello Mr Kutcher again). It deals with a similar catastrophic dilemma: realising the destruction you're causing to other people by attempting to be with the person you love, and then having to live with the guilt or make a huge sacrifice. The Butterfly Effect sees Ashton Kutcher attempt to live out every possibility by going back to poignant moments in his past in an attempt to cause as few ripples as possible and still end up with love (Amy Smart). In the end *SPOILER ALERT!* he realises whatever he tries, however far back in time he goes, nothing will ever change fate and so he walks away from her. It's absolutely devastating, and an unforgettable film (a true gem, go and seek it out). Here, The Adjustment Bureau also toys with the main protagonist - to try and make him believe that by walking away he will be able to fulfil his dreams of being US President, and she will be able to become a world recognised dancer. If they stay together, they will just bring each other down - love fills the gap in the human soul that is meant for achieving your dreams: you can't have both. I think everybody can relate to this, and it's a powerful sentiment to make to your lead character: what will he choose to do? Can he find a way to compromise or will he have to choose one or the other? And how can he do that satisfactorily? Unfortunately Hollywood gets in the way of ever finding out the answer.

There's a lot of action, particularly in the latter half as things come to a climax, drawing on the film's need to be like poster referencing Bourne and then a lot of hijinks's to try and muster up a worthy comparison to Inception. This trying to be a 'super combo' really lets the film down, as the mood and the pacing is a frothy mess. It should either have taken itself seriously and dedicated its time to fucking up our minds, or dropped the will they-won't they headache and have more breathtaking chase sequences and fist in mouth suspense. Instead we got a bit of both and it resulted in my face becoming ever more scrunched up as the film went on.

I don't much care for action films, so say it should have gone down the route of the intelligent sci-fi thriller. It's not as if we don't need another: yes there's The Butterfly Effect, Inception, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but this is a genuinely new interesting concept on fate and free will that is squandered by the need to make it, well, fun. It's so light-hearted and ridiculous at times its hard to buy into what you're being sold: hats as keys? pages that move? Roger Sterling? I hate to say this but John Slattery is completely miscast in this. I like that the bureau's henchmen actually have personalities and quirks, but he is literally acting out his Mad Men character, and here you need people who are intimidating, creepy and hollow (which is why Terence Stamp does a much better job). What also annoyed me was the way Matt Damon's character keeps changing his mind over what he should do: it means the film dips up and down in its consistency until the couple just become an annoyance (although Damon and Emily Blunt are far too likable for that to happen).

I could have forgiven all of these problems (as I so often do) if the ending had been strong. But The Adjustment Bureau gave me one of the flatest, lamest conclusions I have seen in recent years. I'm gonna say it now so stop reading if you're actually going to pay money to watch this: they start out-running the team, they go right into the HQ of the Bureau, and when they're surrounded by security officers they kiss goodbye for the last time - and then it's revealed that they are so inspirational the head guy has re-written their plans so now they can be together. YAY! THE END. Ugh, I couldn't wait to leave the cinema and have a conversation with the nearest human over how cheated I felt. Sometimes a film needs to be affecting and harrowing to make more of an impact - I just wish I could have my mind erased after watching the end of this one.

The Adjustment Bureau is enjoyable bunkum with some solid performances from Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. The problem is George Nolfi is no Michel Gondry, no Christopher Nolan, and his plot leaves many hands up in the air. I've mentioned a lot of better films in this review - if you want your fill of sci-fi romance with a kick then watch one of those instead - this will only leave you bothered and bewildered.

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