The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

The Adjustment Bureau befuddles the senses, makes ordinary cinematic faux-pas.

The Adjustment Bureau has the making of memorable – a great tag-line and sharp actors to make the poster and billboards stand out in a sea of otherwise cookie-cutter cinematic offerings, ultimately fueling a romantic thriller about the fragments of our lives bit-pieced by happenstance. At the core of the film is a young couple who are compelled to risk tomorrow for today against an ominous establishment; later, boy gets girl then quickly loses girl and spends the rest of the film fighting to get her back as a conspiracy theory looms where strange men in fedoras manage Kismet via stiff deliveries – it should be known that lesser said erectile men in suits could be held elsewhere, though one cannot help but draw similarities to the series Madmen, sans cigarettes, whiskey and wit.  However, these characters come across one-away from believable, actions and emotions decisively simple as if brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image (the ubiquitous, dated definition of PG-13) might be too much for the director’s sensibilities – this nether-region before an R-rating gives the lines a staccato pace, hardly a smile except to deliver one-liners in that second whiskey, getting to know you chit-chat between strangers that loses momentum in the seconds it takes to utter them.  The trouble with this window dressing, surface skittering approach to story telling is a loss in the kind of detail necessary for an engaging experience.  Once the characters are introduced and the story presents itself, all forward momentum sputters to a stop at the five-minute mark – after that we’re strung along with befuddled uncertainty as years pass, people come together and go apart and in the end we’re left walking out on the credits – and I never do that.  The Adjustment Bureau is the kind of film that makes the fast forward button not only necessary but cherished.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are the only saving grace in this half-attempted thriller, more espionage without a name or face than dramatic romanticism in modern-day big city anonymity – if the message of the film was that love endures, that the will of the soul to test the boundaries of our fate is stronger than the right hand of god – that might be an interesting premise if not corralled by the blocky, scattered constructs of this film.  We never fully arrive anywhere, unlike Damon’s presumably post-Obama politician with the haystack aw-shucks grin and the suspect past to derail his plans and Blunt’s interpretive dancer facing obscurity and brief notoriety.  They have clear beginnings and ends, though one would be hard pressed to find the extraordinary.  The way the characters move from one open door to the next, from high-rise to elaborate states rooms and beyond, suggests action and scenery yet we know there isn’t anything really going on – the act of suspension of disbelief and vicarious entertainment is not mutually exclusive; we have to want to disbelieve because in turn we expect a certain cinematic escape clause from the ordinary.  The only thing less ordinary than ordinary is a film that presupposes our intelligence with dime store movie chicanery while puffing up shallow ideas for actors with far more talent than the filmmakers know what to do with.  In the end, The Adjustment Bureau operates inside a Saran-wrapped window pane easily pierce with expectation for more only to find once we get to the actors on the other side we realize they’re waiting just like we are for a point to it all.

There are exactly three minutes of movie that you’ll end up taking with you after the credits roll.  These parts are the better bits, the bits that were used for the trailer and that should be warning enough against the rest of the bits.  Don’t you hate when the best part of the movie is the trailer but you don’t know it until you’ve already watched the movie and then it is too late?  The opening sequence where Damon’s politico makes the rounds from charismatic hopeful to adolescent stumbler, surrounded by pop culture icons lending credibility if not a stagy atmosphere, is visually interesting though obviously more plot device than character revelation.  Damon and Blunt do fill in the missing gaps of dialog and story, making bathroom confessionals kinetic and interesting where lesser actors would stammer, serving catalyst and romantic through-line effortlessly. Only the film cannot sustain the attraction and slows to a stop as if in slow motion, legs sinking in a quagmire of the mundanely average.  At the end of all the wind sprint equivalent chase scenarios and roof top epiphanies, we’re left with the nagging feeling that in all honesty, we don’t really have to leave television for this kind of Sunday afternoon cinema.


About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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11 Responses to The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

  1. Wow, what a summation of this film. I haven’t seen it, and regardless of your final thought on the matter, I intend to when it comes to BluRay (I always enjoy a Matt Damon film….) – your thoughts will make interesting ruminations between my wife and I when we eventually do sit down to watch it. It’s one of those rare times when the good wife wants to watch a film as much as I do!

    Can’t pass THAT up!!

    A great article, well constructed thoughts and rational arguments, as always, Rory. A pleasure to read.

    • rorydean says:

      I’m looking forward to hearing what you think about this one. I had high hopes. I had heard from a few people that it was OK, good even, but not a lot of specifics. I saw it available and took the plunge because I’m a big fan of Emily Blunt and I like Damon quite a bit – he’s such a versatile actor, even when he doesn’t have a lot to work with (as with this movie) he’s at least interesting to watch. He manages a connection with the material even when he isn’t given much from the director and you can’t help but like that about him. I know you’ve heard that saying “director-proof” and it always comes to mind when I think of him – in that not even a weak or explicitly bad director can detour him from a performance. I hope you two enjoy the film regardless of your more critical eye – spending time with a movie is something my wife and I enjoy even when we’re not particularly fond of the movie. No, you’d be a fool to pass that up! Glad you liked this one – cheers

  2. Matt S. says:

    Very nice blog you have here, and brilliant writing on this film. I am a bit skeptical about it, but the idea of George Nolfi becoming a director is too much for me to pass up – The Bourne Ultimatum is one of my favorite action films – so I do hope I enjoy it. However, everyone I talk to seems to either smash it or somewhat enjoy it, no praise, as I hear Nolfi’s writing and direction is incredibly uneven. Anyways, hope to see you around my blog as well!

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Matt – thanks for visiting and looking around. Glad you liked my assessment of Adjustment Bureau and I’m going to head over to your blog later and check out your thoughts on films and ‘entertainment news’. I appreciate your praise, I’m a sucker for “brilliant”. I wanted this film to be so much better, though as I wrote in my review Blunt and Damon had great chemistry together. I liked the first Bourne movie then after that things felt stuck in first gear, the same thing installment after installment. Makes me want to cover them with a thorough review. See ya around the blog-o-sphere.

  3. Well, I watched it. And both I and the wife enjoyed it. I admit, I managed to overlook some of the obvious plot holes, moreso that you did, and just sat back and let it all wash over me. Personally, I thought the balance between romance and thrills was just right, and the “how are they ever going to overcome these odds” feeling was quite exciting. I didn’t know where the film was going to go, and thought both Damon and Blunt delivered an awesome on-screen chemistry together – making their fate even more evocative.
    I do agree that perhaps the handling of the story itself, by director Geogre Nolfi, was a little thinly planned out, and the rest of the cast seemed more 2 dimensional than the two leads, but I figured that only made the “bad guys” more mysterious. I thought John Slattery did a fantastic job as the sardonic Bureau man in charge of Norris’s case – even though he didn’t have much substance to work with, he brought a bit of a nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor to it all…. even if he was a hard-ass, he was still likeable in an “only doing my job” kind of way.

    My review won’t by up until October, so a bit of a wait for that, but in a nutshell, I agree with you regarding the characterizations – although I still managed to enjoy this film for the ride it was intended to be.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Rodney — not sure why you’re appearing as spam here. I’ll have to look into that. I agree about the onscreen romance working between Blunt and Damon and while the suspense and thrills were too far and few between, what ultimately failed here was the story and execution of the plot. To be honest I got sleepy and the twists and turns felt clunky and predictable. I tried to divorce myself of a critical screening but I didn’t connect and consequently it became easier to pick things apart. I kept wanting the film to decide on what it wanted to be from the beginning and get that out of the way so we could focus on character and story but it just didn’t pay off. I’ll look for your review – don’t hesitate to let me know when you got it up. cheers->

  4. I watched it. I thought it was pretty decent, actually, even though there were some obvious problems with the balance between the romance and the “action”. The “mystery” of the Bureau men kept both me and my wife enthralled from start to finish – and my wife was quite prepared to hate it. She screwed up her nose early on when she saw I’d hired it, but after about five minutes was as into the film as I was. I agree, this film isn’t for everyone, and sure, it’s got plenty of moments where things could have been tightened up a little, the overall impact was one of a solid, well made “thriller” which also had a romantic angle. Not too many films pull that off.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey — yeah, you’re right on about thriller slash romance but I’ll have to agree to disagree. I reached a point where I hated the men in hats, especially their stiff deliveries and empty characterization – I mean really, we never ever got to know these characters. OK. Enough beating this one with a stick. I got others to crackle – like Transformers, Sucker Punch and many others. I got to get my lists squared away but balance – yes, balance. I don’t want to make them all reviews of films I hated but it can be easier to write those. So much material.

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