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Monday, August 8, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

On the surface level, The Adjustment Bureau, written and directed by George Nolfi and based quite loosely on a story by Philip K. Dick, offers up a lot to please the eye: the locations are nice, the costumes are neat if a little silly what with the fedoras and all, and Emily Blunt wears some fashionable dresses with necklines low enough to keep many eyeballs fastened to the screen even in the duller moments. If it wanted to be a popcorn thriller with no underlying meaning or message, it would be a success on that score.

But The Adjustment Bureau gives mixed signals on that front, seeming to indicate in a variety of ways that it wants you to take it more seriously than that. And that is unfortunate, because greater scrutiny, or really, any scrutiny, reveals the plot to be just a mishmash of your freshman philosophy course and the questions your stoner buddies used to intone when they got a good buzz on.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, America’s coolest congressman and a candidate for the senate. He doesn’t know it yet, but his life is following a plan maintained for him by the members of the Adjustment Bureau, who are ominously depicted wearing fedoras. After he loses the election, which wasn’t in the Plan, Norris meets Elise (Emily Blunt) in a meet-cute more appropriate to a Katherine Heigl rom-com. There’s an instantaneous connection. They kiss; he’s inspired, and goes off-book in his concession speech, kick-starting his next campaign.

Then one day the Adjustment team member assigned to Norris (Anthony Mackie) falls asleep, and David runs into Elise again, against the Plan. When he gets to work that morning, earlier than the Plan called for, he stumbles upon his coworkers being adjusted to accept Norris’s wishes on solar energy. Norris is caught and John Slattery explains to him what he’s seen, and tells him that he can never see Elise again. Norris promises not to reveal the existence of the Adjustment Bureau, lest he be “reset”.

But there wouldn’t be much of a movie in that, would there? So of course he finds her again, by random chance, and decides, screw the Plan, this chick’s hot. Then the Adjustment Bureau sends Terrence Stamp after him, who pontificates on free will for a while and then delivers an ultimatum: If you stay with Elise, neither of your dreams will come true, but they will if you stay away from her. To prove his point he then breaks Elise’s ankle and threatens to make it worse.

From there the movie sort of devolves. Of course Damon has to get the girl, so the plot has to come up with a way to make that happen. There’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo crammed into the last twenty minutes, when Anthony Mackie decides to help Damon and teach him the ways of the men in fedoras. But hey, there’s Emily Blunt running while wearing a plunging neckline, so at least you’re not drifting away from the screen.

The ending is a little too happy to be taken seriously, as all the disturbing implications of living in a world where an unseen being controls every action we take in order to maintain a pre-ordained plan are conveniently brushed aside, seemingly overpowered by the force of pure love. It’s enough to make you gag.

The performances and visuals are appealing enough but they are unsupported by a script which tries too hard to be both thought-provoking and mass-appealing. It is not a particular success at either.

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