Monday, 14 March 2011

The Adjustment Bureau - ANGELIC HORDES COME FORTH!!!

Director: George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terence Stamp
Certificate: 12A
Duration: 105 minutes

Based on the short story, The Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau carries the high concept marketing label of ‘Bourne meets Inception’ because its formal title isn't a great one, lets face it... Whilst the movie does not quite live up to this misleading tag line that promises high octane action and a dose of paranoia questioning your grasp of reality, The Adjustment Bureau is a very reasonable and well made romance with that all important Philip K. Dick twist.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, a young and promising politician running for the senate seat for Brooklyn New York. After stumbling in an election in 2007, he meets free spirited dancer Elise (Emily Blunt), and the pair typically fall in love at first sight before being forced apart. David meets Elise by chance the next day on a bus and gains her phone number. However, it quickly transpires that there is a mysterious and secretive over watching force of at work, a troop of trilby hat wearing smartly suited agents working for the chairman who seems to have a big plan for the ways real world events happen. After accidentally exposing himself to these members of the Adjustment Bureau (angels will do…) David is told that forming a relationship with Elise is against the Chairman’s (or God’s) big plan and that he is destined to pursue a lucrative and highly influential career in politics. They burn the piece of paper with Elise’s phone number and the film fast forwards three years later, where David once again meets up with Elise after thinking about her the whole time. Thusly, David must fight against the forces of God and destiny to be with the woman he loves.      

They have been sent by God, and this time their bringing trilbies back...
The plot is literally as simple as that. However, as with all Philip K. Dick film adaptations that have gone before, The Adjustment Bureau is built upon that single intriguing premise. The premise that angels exist in the real world making sure that events, no matter how big or small, occur to shepherd humanity down a predetermined path. There are no beings with feathered wings, there are no majestic glimpses of heaven and the pearly gates, or the booming voice of God in stereo sound. The movie is instead and probably quite rightly grounded within reality. The angelic hordes do have the power to freeze people whilst they apply extra gloss to faces before they make that all important business detail as well as accessing worm holes through doors that allow for quick transport around New York. Some may find it disheartening to see the machinery of heaven depicted as a highly bureaucratic regime ruled by intense administrative regulation and a pyramid scheme, where angels are actually on a payroll. In comparison, Hell is probably a socialist hippy commune of anarchists that get nothing done. 

Ever wondered why you look like shit in the morning or at least don't look as good as you think you should? Angels... You are simply not part of God's plan.
Despite this, The Adjustment Bureau is not a movie that offers any grand treatises on religion or the afterlife, or man’s inhumanity to man (though there is a laughably concise summation of the entire history of the human race given by Terence Stamp, apparently the angels did give us free will after the apex of the Roman empire but then we went off and made the dark ages... ho hum...). Bladerunner this is not, the overarching sentiment is safe and predictable, live your life how you want, be what you are, not what you ain’t etc. Classic Hollywood schmaltz in other words.   

The Adjustment Bureau is best understood, and most importantly enjoyed as a romance of the most conventional form. There is the whole love at first sight in the first act, the chase and the temporary parting of the pair at the start of the third act and the obligatory happy ending. Its not a spoiler, throughout the film, the tone simply does not build you up for tragedy. It plays it far too safe. Apart from the usual plot conventions there are all the clich├ęs of the genre, including dancers that may never dance again and the running through rain to stop the woman from marrying the wrong man. However, the use of the angels does add a smart dimension to the drama, which adds tension. One of the sequences, in which Damon’s character is racing to meet Elise as the angels attempt to do everything in their power to stop him is highly reminiscent of the final set piece of the matrix, as Neo tries to get to the phone whilst being pursued by Smith albeit with less bullets and wire-fu.  

There is a lot of running in this movie...
Among the angelic horde is Mad Men’s John Slattery, who adds a bit of humour to the routine business of heavenly administration. Terence Stamp also turns up as a higher ranking angel known as the hammer and essentially plays it… well… like you would expect from Terence Stamp, oppressing and coldly authoritative. It is the performances from Matt Damon and Emily Blunt that make The Adjustment Bureau work. The ever dependable Damon is believable and likable as the wide eyed politician trying to bring a bit of honesty into politics (though anyone who watched Carcetti’s rise to power in The Wire will probably like to see how Damon’s career turned out). Blunt is probably the strongest performance of the movie, managing to be free spirited without being annoyingly quirky that so many other romantic comedy heroines have been of late. Essentially she is someone you believe that Damon’s character will literally go to the ends of the earth to partner with. Which is essentially all you really need to make a love story to work.

Oh come on Terence, crack a smile already...
And work, The Adjustment Bureau does. The Christian/Judeo concepts are not particularly deep in any way and it’s not likely to antagonize the bible bashing elites. Those who have seen the trailer may be slightly disappointed in what turns out to be a formulaic love story. It is a movie set in the world of politics and the offices of lucrative lawyers, even the machinations of heaven are represented by marble floored administrative halls. Having said that, The Adjustment Bureau is an extremely serviceable kind of romance, employing a couple of twists here and there to attach the dynamic of a thriller to the loved up proceedings, which thankfully isn’t too sentimental or gushy thanks to the performances of its two leads.

The Adjustment Bureau is built upon a novel idea, that could be seen as wasted on the genre by the more cynical cinephiles. The biggest criticism you can say about it, is that it is possibly too neutral in its subject matter. With that said, it is an inoffensive and tastefully put together love story, which may make you groan in places but a movie that at least won't fill you with hate for the human race thanks largely to the rather lovely Emily Blunt. 

Matt Damon... 


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