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.