Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Written & Directed by: George Nolfi

Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Terence Stamp

Rating: 8/10

The Adjustment Bureau is a film that wears it’s heart on its sleeve and its head in The Twilight Zone. The film begins with what looks like a propaganda piece for Davis Norris (Damon), a young, handsome and, most importantly, working-class politician who is running for Congress. He is well-dressed, genuine and cares about the little guy, making him a shoo-in for his constituency. That is, until a newspaper runs some unsavoury photographs of him from his wilder days. His lead drops away and he loses the election.

David is crushed and as he rehearses his concession speech in the men’s toilets in a swanky hotel, he realises he is not alone. There is a beautiful young woman (Blunt) hiding away in a cubicle, on the run from hotel security for crashing a wedding. In a meet-cute straight out of a Capra film, the pair hit it off instantly and she inspires him with her free-spirited nature and her easy manner. When David’s aide tells him it’s time to go, she dashes off into the night leaving David aghast and madly in love. She also left him inspired. He discards his old speech and replaces it with an improvised speech about the falsities that he presents as a politician, the thought and man-power that goes into choosing his tie and his shoes and he promises that he is the real deal and he will no longer buy into such nonsense. His powerful speech resonates with his constituents and his profile is raised making a sure thing for the next election…if he chooses to run.

Despite all the positive attention, David has only one thing on his mind. The woman he met on election night. When he accidentally bumps into her on the bus and the spark between them is as powerful as it was the first time, his prayers have been answered.

Meanwhile, shadowy men in fedoras and trenchcoats are thrown into a panic. How did this happen? This wasn’t part of the plan! They do everything in their power to ensure that this couple are kept apart so David can go back to the path he is supposed to be on and fulfil his destiny.

The rest of the film sees these shadowy characters following David and trying to convince him to never see her again. But, the heart wants what the heart wants and David is more stubborn than the Adjustment Bureau give him credit for.

As the film progresses it becomes clear that there are two worlds going on and both are as intriguing as the other. The first world is that of the Adjustment Bureau, an far-reaching organisation that watches the world and ensures that the important people reach their destiny. Any breaches will be rectified at any cost. However, as we get to know these characters, particularly Harry (a scene-stealing Anthony Mackie) who we suspect has become a little too attached to David and might just be on his side, it becomes clear that there is more to them than meets the eye and the people who first seem like leaders are only following orders from the people above them. John Slattery as the snide, arrogant Richardson (not a huge leap from his Mad Men or Desperate Housewives characters) and Terence Stamp as the malicious and reckless Thompson make wonderful villains as we struggle to understand the nature of their place in the world. Are they angels who are so caught up in the tangles of bureaucracy that their wings are forever tarnished by its machinations? Or are they politicians with an agenda that they will fulfil at any cost to the humans on earth? Either way, their world of GPS destiny-tracking machines and huge libraries and doors that magically open to the other side of the city is visually delightful and also intricate enough to capture the imagination.

The other world that the film gives us is the rather more intimate world between David and Elise, two people falling in love. The trick to The Adjustment Bureau and its strongest aspect is that the love story is not only believable, but it is engaging enough to make us really, really care that they are allowed to end up together. It’s all too rare to see falling in love portrayed onscreen with such a dynamic pairing. Not for one second do we doubt that this couple is supposed to be together and it is a credit to the filmmakers and the actors that such fanciful leaps of faith on the part of the audience are possible. Too many films place the entire premise on the assumption that two people belong together but don't make the audience really believe it (Titanic, I'm looking at you!). 

When these worlds collide it brings together a mix of wonder, terror and science fiction logic that is brilliantly executed and lovingly rendered by the wonderful cast. Matt Damon in particular must be applauded for his role here. He single-handledly shoulders not only the emotional core of the film but elegantly balances it with the action and sci-fi. Of course, I’ve come to expect nothing less from him, after a long career of skilful genre-jumping but here he shines in a film which could have gone terribly wrong if it weren’t for our love of the character and of course the double jeopardy of that niggling feeling that the Adjustment Bureau could be right. This man is going to be important and might change the world in the future and he shouldn't deviate from his path for the sake of a woman.

The final few minutes might get a little too sappy for some but this cannot overshadow the fun, the mayhem and the high-concept artistry on offer in the film. Stylish, thoughtful and deep, this is my favourite sci-fi film since The Box (hey, it’s a great movie, don’t be so hasty!) and I recommend watching it with an open mind but be prepared for a bit of romance thrown in with the action!

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