Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Prepare for Adjustment

With four new releases this past week, it's taken a lot of timing to make sure I don't miss anything I want to see in the theaters. For this occasion, I made sure to get a ticket to The Adjustment Bureau, the directorial debut of George Nolfi starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. If you're like me, you were of two minds after seeing the trailer to this film in the preceding months. Mind One: "Wow, this looks AMAZING! Damon and Blunt are outstanding performers, the plot (adapted from Philip K. Dick's short story The Adjustment Team) is interesting enough to be entertaining, and it looks like there's excitement around every turn!" Mind two: "Wow, this looks CONFUSING! Damon and Blunt are outstanding performers, but the trailer seems to be full of contradictory scenes, cliched boogeymen, and a bit too much exposition." Mind two was one of the reasons I chose the same-day release Rango for first watch this week, but Mind One was still prevalent enough to ensure it wouldn't be long before I took in this enigmatic thriller myself.

Now raise your hands if you're $%@&ing Matt Damon!
After a college reunion prank turns into a scandal that derails his campaign to become the next Senator from New York, Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) prepares his post-election speech when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt) seemingly by accident. The pair immediately hit it off, but part suddenly before David is able to obtain her last name or phone number. One month later, the now-retired Congressman is on his way to work when he manages to run into Elise again, this time on the morning bus. He manages to get her phone number, but afterwards he runs into an impossibility: strange men have infiltrated his workplace, freezing his co-workers in time and their minds in the process of being adjusted. Soon captured by these men, David is held and told that the men who have him are agents of the Adjustment Bureau, an organization that monitors the world and ensures that things happen according to a plan, one conceived by the unseen "Chairman". The agents warn David not to reveal their existence to the world, or else his mind will be reset (lobotomised). Oh, and you know that girl Elise? He can't see her again, either, since their being together doesn't allow the plan to work..

Damon accidentally wanders in to a Don Draper convention
The Adjustment Bureau raises some interesting ideas, most notably the role of the organization in world affairs. According to the history of the Adjustment Bureau, they try to guide the civilizations of the world down the proper path, leading them to the peak of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and other great moments in history. Then they take the leash off to see if humanity can keep it up. The results have been the same: dark ages, World Wars, global conflicts. Finally, the Bureau has decided to clamp down and run the world in secret, and while David points out to one that the world is not such a great place, the response is that the world is still THERE, which it might not be if it hadn't been for their intervention. The agents of the Bureau have apparently been known by "other names." That the agents and their Chairman could be pseudonyms for Angels and God is an intriguing proposition, albeit not without the film's apparent contradictions, such as an agent who falls asleep at his post.

Fancy meeting you... in the men's bathroom...
One of the biggest reasons I wanted to see this film was the quality of the actors involved. After a 2010 that disappointed with two poor films (The over-the-top Green Zone and the underwhelming Hereafter), Damon rebounded with the great supporting role in True Grit before coming back into his own here. As David Norris's aspiring politician, Damon is charming, funny, smart, and everything else he needs to perfectly fit the part. Always one to pick his roles intelligently, Damon made a slam dunk here and continues to impress. Blunt is less of a known quantity; the Golden Globe winner's career rose sharply after her starring turn in 2006's The Devil Wears Prada, and this might be her biggest role since then. She makes the most of it, being intriguing, mysterious and charismatic, and as impossible for the audience to ignore as she is to David. The best parts of the film are their scenes together, the chemistry between them as close to perfection as can be. I'm not scared to proclaim that if their character interactions hadn't worked, the film would have gone with it; The Adjustment Bureau owes much to these two talents. Other stars make their mark, though none as emphatically as the two leads. The Hurt Locker's Anthony Mackie is among those actors to watch out for (as supposed by his appearance on the cover of the Hollywood Issue of Vanity Fair) and does a great job as Harry Mitchell, an Agent assigned to David who harbors questions as to whether the plan is right or just. John Slattery doesn't stray far from type as another agent named Richardson. Slattery to me will always be Mad Men's Roger Sterling, and he doesn't do much here to distinguish between the roles. If anything, I'd bet the role was written with him in mind. Michael Kelly is good if uninteresting as David's campaign manager and friend, and Terrence Stamp chews scenery with the best as an upper-level agent unafraid to do whatever it takes to keep the star-crossed lovers apart.

Memorizing line can be a challenge when the Plan is always changing
While certainly an interesting concept, the film is marred in a few places. While the film certainly aims to ask questions by placing the Beureau and its Chairman in vague religious contexts, that still doesn't quite amend for the fact that you had a supernatural Agent FALL ASLEEP ON THE JOB. I guess the lesson is that even the agents are only human? Another oversight, even if it might at first seem minor: no female Agents? Really? I know it's not a major topic in the film, but that seems like a strange thing to miss.Perhaps Nolfi didn't want to extend the metaphor TOO far from religious thematic sources, in which Angels are usually portrayed as male in gender. And that might be the film's biggest problem; for all the concepts the director introduces, including the ideas of free will and predestination, the film doesn't explore these themes enough. This results in a film that could have expanded its religious themes being rendered into a simple - albeit extremely well-done - chase and romance thriller. This can be probably be attributed to Nolfi's inexperience as a director, but on the other hand you can never be sure where the studio stepped in and said "enough," either. Finally, while the script is sweet and smart, there are a few unintentionally funny moments that suddenly jar the viewer out of the film, though these are quickly rectified.

The Bureau has accepted Affirmative Action, but not equal employment for women?
All these problems still didn't ruin the experience for me, however. Perhaps due to the trailer not doing the film justice, The Adjustment Bureau outstripped even my highest expectations. Led by the amazing duo of Damon and Blunt, a good supporting cast, a strong story and a great message on the fighting for what you love, The Adjustment Bureau is my new #1 Film of 2011. I suppose that should really come as no surprise, but it was the best time I've had in a theater so far this year, and while I'd like to simply attribute that to the two stars, the film is the most solid overall piece I've seen to this point.

No comments: