Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The enjoyably overcooked and just plain right daffy paranoia thriller\love story The Adjustment Bureau has a few of the elements that hearken back to the days of Alfred Hitchcock.  The scenario of a good man, unjustly wronged by a sinister all encompassing powerful group, the good girl by his side, a smattering of political intrigue...it all brings back wondrous memories when twisty thrillers used to give such pleasurable knots in your stomach.  Unfortunately first time director George Nolfi (writer of The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean's Twelve) doesn't quite know how to make all the strong elements on screen pop in a dynamic, cohesive way.  In adapting a short story from Philip K. Dick, modern cinema's most popular writer for twisty whatchamacallits (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next), Nolfi gives away the good too early for genuine suspense to really get us all hot and bothered, leaving a highly watchable piece of disposable filmgoing, when it perhaps could have been a nifty throwback to the master.

Matt Damon stars as David Norris, an upshot politician making his bid for a Senate seat for the state of New York; presented as brash, young and authentic, with presidential potential to boot.  And also a bit of a self destructive guy with a miserable past.  He meets Elise (Emily Blunt), in a meet-cute, seemingly by chance, only in the movies sort of way (it's in a boys restroom no less), and her free spirited British charm sparks not only David's political career but his heartstrings as well.  Unfortunately fate has other plans for the budding lovers, or the ones in charge of fate, who come in the form of fedora wearing Mad Men-types (John Slattery naturally plays one of the messengers.)  They're known as adjusters, who foresee that everyone is leaving their lives according to a plan already made up for them.  While there's certainly a nifty subtext at work to the free will vs. determinism debate, The Adjustment Bureau settles for surface depth, for as seemingly on top of their man in keeping when away from his girl, they keep running into each other, another meet-cute moment on a bus, so on and so forth.

What keeps the energy going for as long as it does must be credited to the easy going, sweet rapport of Damon and Blunt.  It may not exactly be the old school Hitchcock magic of James Stewart and Grace Kelly, but in certain glimpses it comes awfully close, with Blunt's flirty demeanor and Damon's straight man mug.  The problem lies in that Blunt's Elise gets short shifted in screen time, we need more of her to really root for them.  And we get too much of the adjuster guys (Slattery, Anthony Mackie, and baddie number one, Terrence Stamp) who are too mechanical to be seen as legitimate threats, and who spill the beans on the fun within the second reel...suspense needs a longer through-line to keep those stomachs in such delightful knots.  Mackie, a fine actor, is unfortunately given the villain with a conscience role, one that unfortunately recalls a past Matt Damon work in my eyes at least, as the saintly black guy-- The Legend of Bagger Vance-- frightening.

Yet through the daffiness, Nolfi holds it mostly together with a competently made glossiness.  It holds out until the climax where are the loose ends spiral out of control, right when the film should be at it's most vibrant.  The fun house sequence at the end should be a jolt to senses, instead it comes across as routine, almost arbitrary.  C+

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