Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Rumor has it that when the original Young Turks of the Cashiers du Cinema gathered years after the fact for a round table discussion one of the topics was with regards to how they had argued so hard towards the director as the artist of his own work that when he was finally given artistic freedom, he didn’t know what to do with it.

That is, in one way or another, the logic behind the Adjustment Bureau as explained by Terrence Stamp’s Thompson in one of those film stealing monologue scenes. It’s that free will is just an illusion. Sure we can chose what tie to wear and what tooth paste to use, but give a person real power over themselves and we get the Dark Ages or World Wars. Thus there is a Chairman who has a plan devised for everyone and when we step off course, he sends his men to give us all a nudge back into fulfilling the destiny that was set out for us.

That’s the story told anyway in the new film of the same name which places Matt Damon and Emily Blunt into, what is essentially an old fashioned melodrama with the ideas surrounding them loosely based on a Phillip K. Dick short story that, just possibly, Alex Proyas also had in mind when he dreamed up his masterpiece Dark City. It’s the foregrounding of this romance that essentially holds the movie together, giving it human momentum within a story that hasn’t been given half as much though by its writer/director George Nolfi as say was given to the aforementioned Dark City or even Inception for that matter. But then again, the old adage still stands: love conquers all.

Damon plays David Norris, a former bad boy turned senate hopeful in New York who looks poised to win until a picture of some former college hijinks is put into print and Norris loses. In the bathroom, before his speech on election night he meets Elise (Blunt) and immediately establishes a connection until she is chased away, no name or number having been given, by a pair of guards looking for her for crashing a wedding upstairs.

Norris, smitten and frustrated, manages a speech that night that is honest and compelling and looks like it will set him on course for a win come next term. Meanwhile, on a bus to his new job, he meets up with Elise and they manage to exchange numbers. However, this wasn’t the plan for Norris who, upon arrival to the office, finds men in suits erasing memories from his co-workers. They give chase but are inescapable. Their hats, we are later told, allow them the power to go through doors and be teleported around the city like magic. It’s a neat trick that doesn’t get much more logical an explanation than this.

Norris is told of this mysterious Chairman and this divine plan that has been written for everyone and is mapped out in convenient animated books which, despite their power, look less impressive and versatile than Ipads. Apparently God hasn’t caught up with the times. But now, reeling myself back in, I’ve gone and made an important assumption that the film wisely doesn’t. These men don’t stand in for angels nor the Chairman for God, although the parallels are there. We know this Chairman, we are told, by many different names and have met him but never know as he appears in a different form to everyone.

The thing is, Norris was never meant to meet Elise and her presence, if a relationship is allowed to develop, will throw both of their destinies off course and will ultimately, if Thompson is to be believed, ruin both of them. Therefore, the agents follow Norris, “nudging” him every once in a while in order to keep him on the fast track to greatness and away from Elise. The logic here though is a bit murky: if the agents need to keep nudging Norris back on track, aren’t they changing also, by doing so, the destinies of those around them, in a Butterfly Effect-like manner? Are there other agents who need to come in and nudge everyone else back on course after an initial nudge? That must require a lot of man power. Maybe in the sequel we can go backstage at the Bureau and see the Chairman going through the recruitment process.

The film is wise in that it doesn’t explicitly draw a religious parallel, which would ultimately ground it in some sort of reality and make it into something it isn’t.

And then the story ultimately becomes a romantic thriller in which Norris, with the help of one optimistic agent played by Anthony Mackie, tries to avert the agents, tries to get back to Elise, even if it means changing the course of his entire life. It’s a nice premise for which Damon and Blunt can cast a likable couple that we generally hope find each other and features a world in which chases are handled by foot and not computers and are filmed in long takes and edited with logic not a blender.

And that’s what you get for your money. Here’s a film that is well acted and made and spreads a little bit of logic in with a little bit of illogic. It doesn’t have the sweep of say Inception, but unlike that film it does have an emotional drive towards some sort of foreseeable end point, which makes it not nearly as compelling but engaging for its own simple, earnest reasons. It won’t provide any food for thought that will justifiably leave anyone discussing it several weeks from now but then again, neither did Inception.

1 comment:

  1. It's a breezy film masquerading as a sincere one, and while that's obnoxious, it's hard to hate a fun night at the movies. Good review, check out mine when you can!