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Saturday, March 12, 2011
The Adjustment Bureau
Fate Scrapes And Interventions
Emily Blunt as Elise and Matt Damon as David in George Nolfi's "The Adjustment Bureau". Universal
by Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com FOLLOW
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Philip K. Dick's science-fiction short story Adjustment Team gets big screen treatment as "The Adjustment Bureau" by director George Nolfi. The romantic sci-fi drama, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, opened last week across the U.S. and Canada.
It's 2002 or thereabouts, and David Norris (Mr. Damon) has just lost his election bid to be the next senator of New York State. David commiserates silently -- more or less practicing his concession speech -- in a bathroom. An attractive woman in a backless dress walks in. Sparks fly. Chemistry percolates. Their dialogue is at its best. This describes the opening scenario between Elise (Ms. Blunt) and David, and it's the high point of Mr. Nolfi's otherwise tepid film. For the first 30 minutes we get a sense of this couple. They are instantly drawn to each other. We know they'll meet again, for that's the way it is. Or is it?
Some pesky, buttoned-up men in three-piece suits spend much of the film curtailing the enjoyment David and Elise derive from the pleasure of each other's company. Complete with hats and trench coats these men, members of The Adjustment Bureau, a cloak-and-dagger CIA-type organization, don't have any life except to alter the lives of David and Elise. Their mission is to keep David on track career-wise, and Elise on the straight and narrow too.
So it comes with great regret that Mr. Nolfi cannot also follow through with Bureau-like discipline when directing "The Adjustment Bureau", which periodically works thanks to nicely-scripted early dialogue by the director and Kevin Thompson's sharp, industrial production values that hew closely to Mr. Dick's cold, mechanical and austere world, stripped bare, stark and bleaker than bleak.
Where the film falls short, and significantly so, however, is in the execution of Mr. Dick's story. Padded with scenes literally ripped from other films (including "The Box", "The Game", "Vanilla Sky"), "Bureau" drags, spending inordinate time on power struggles within the organization. The film takes us away from enjoying David and Elise, failing to sustain the energy of their interactions.
One Bureau member, Harry (Anthony Mackie), helps David avoid a relentless onslaught of male pursuers. Harry says he has his reasons for helping David, though we never really find out what those reasons are.
Matt Damon as David and Anthony Mackie as Harry in George Nolfi's "The Adjustment Bureau". Universal
As played nicely by Mr. Mackie, Harry is the film's mediator and conscience, yet we don't get any sense of him beyond the suit he inhabits. Sure, the story is about David and fate -- and the film is good at introducing discussions about fate without becoming too "Inception"-like clever for its own good -- but if Harry has the motivation to invest his days and nights assisting in David's liberation from a cadre of creepy anti-social misfits in suits there should be a little more at stake for the assisting character. Shouldn't there?
In hindsight the lack of explanation of Harry, an underwritten character, does both the viewer and Harry a disservice. Harry spends time chasing after buses -- and quite frankly looking foolish -- in order to get David's attention and slow his progress. All this energy invested, but for what? Harry belongs to that stable of characters in Hollywood films -- specifically black characters -- who are smart and articulate enough to help liberate their white counterparts from sticky situations, yet can't do the same for themselves or be given a platform of sufficient depth or understanding that girds or justifies their actions. (See many films, including "The Green Mile" and "The Legend Of Bagger Vance".)
Harry is an angel without a deeper purpose. The character becomes a gimmick, as does the story in which he is enveloped. Harry exists solely to give David a push yet Harry himself never becomes liberated from his Bureau, making him hollow and artificial, a figment of the film's imagination. On stage and screen Mr. Mackie is one of America's most talented actors, and although the character he plays here is at best an incomplete salesman of privacy interruption, he has enough of a handle on Harry to make him likable and engaging, a filter if not respite for the audience. Harry deserves more than he gets.
In the second act and beyond Ms. Blunt is foisted into this fantasy thriller-cum-romance nightmare as an action figure. Elise is smart, ambitious and has a lot going for her, until she is relegated to arm-candy status, running from David's impossible and tormented situation all over the Big Apple. It's an endurance test that falls short. While Mr. Nolfi's film has a few stellar moments, overall "The Adjustment Bureau" needed major renovations.
With: John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp, David Bishins, Fabrizio Brienza, Anthony Ruivivar.
"The Adjustment Bureau" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image. The film's running time is one hour and 46 minutes.
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