Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) written and directed by George Nolfi

Being a science fiction fan, I was intrigued by the premise of The Adjustment Bureau. The basic idea, that a shadow group is manipulating people according to their own plan or design, is not new in the sci fi genre (The Matrix, Inception, and Dark City are the first to mind). Or in political thrillers like The Manchurian Candidate. In this story, Matt Damon plays a politician, David Norris, who has just failed to win a senate seat from the great state of New York. He has a chance encounter with Emily Blunt's character, Elise, in the men's room of the hotel where he's about to give his concession speech. She inspires him to give a great, off-the-cuff speech about the artificiality of political campaigning and how he won't quit politics. He is presented as the quintessential honest politician. He's also the quintessential brash youth, who has gotten into a barroom brawl and other shenanigans that cost him the election.

It turns out the titular Adjustment Bureau has been manipulating his life all along, including providing the "chance" encounter in the bathroom. Their plans are not immediately clear, other than they want him to be successful ultimately in politics. And they don't want he and Elise to meet again. They are a charming couple. Damon and Blunt have nice chemistry and the characters are well drawn enough to make the viewer root for them.

Unfortunately, the Bureau itself is a bit of a let down. For all its seemingly omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, is really rather inept, random, and unfocused. When people don't follow the Bureau's plans, they make little shifts (like spilling coffee to stop someone meeting) to get people to choose freely according to their plan. More than once in the movie, the Bureau guys miss their preplanned changes through incompetence or because they might interfere too much. While you certainly don't want overly competent or successful villains, their flaws and bumbles are so manifold, it's hard to believe they really are as sinister as they seem. When David first discovers that the Bureau exists and is altering people, there's no explanation how he can see the Bureau while all the "normal" people are frozen in time. Later, David challenges one of the Bureau's men on why they are keeping David and Elise apart. The guy has nothing to say in his own defense and David concludes that he doesn't know why. The guy is just following orders. Even when he talks to higher ups, the explanation makes little sense. The movie doesn't present the Bureau as really having its act together. They are just too ill defined and too easy to beat.

It all seems a bit nonsensical, which made the movie disappointing for me. Especially since it is based on a Philip K. Dick story. I haven't read any of his books, but most of the movies based on his books (like Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, etc.) are interesting and intelligent. This movie promises to be both but does not deliver on either.

1 comment:

  1. A very good semi sci-fi drama but probably not one to do when tired.