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Adjustment Bureau, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Do Androids Dream Of Weak Third Act Resolutions?"
3 stars

The stories of the celebrated science-fiction author Philip K. Dick have long vexed those in Hollywood who have hoped to translate his words to the silver screen. Essentially, Dick’s works would contain brilliant and enormously cinematic ideas at their core but the stories themselves were more cerebral than action-packed and that is not the kind of thing that plays very well on film. With the exception of Richard Linklater’s brilliant take on Dick’s “A Scanner Darkly,” most of the attempt at translating his stories have involved filmmakers extracting those ideas and then attempting to construct a more commercially satisfying narrative around them. As you can probably guess, the track record for such projects is uneven at best--for every admittedly inspired take such as “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report” (which bore little resemblance to its source but which nevertheless successfully captured the feel of Dick’s writing) or “Total Recall” (which made complete hash of Dick’s original work but which was nevertheless a hugely entertaining and slyly subversive pop epic in the hands of director Paul Verhoeven), there are such eminently forgettable misfires as “Screamers,” “Imposter” or “Paycheck” that buried those ideas underneath a lot of dumbed-down dreck ladled on in a misguided attempt to broaden their appeal. “The Adjustment Bureau” is the latest adaptation of one of Dick’s stories--the 1954 short story “Adjustment Team”--and like most of its brethren, it bears little resemblance to its source but for a little while, it is just compelling enough in the early going and contains enough of his influence to make you think that it will go down as one of the more successful attempts. Unfortunately, it is right around this point that the gears of mediocrity begin to grind away and a once-promising mind-bender turns into an increasingly formulaic and nonsensical piece of pap that will most viewers thinking “Next!” (or in this case, “Next”) long before it comes to its hopelessly inane and thunderously disappointing conclusion.

Matt Damon stars as David Morris, an ambitious young congressman from New York whose ascendancy to the Senate seems all but assured when proof of an indiscretion of the bare-assed kind hits the papers just before the election. Preparing to deliver his concession speech on election night, he makes the acquaintance of Elise (Emily Blunt), a ballet dancer whose sparky personality inspires him to forego the typically bland blandishments he was preparing to deliver in order to give a truth-telling talk that immediately rejuvenates his political fortunes. Unfortunately, Elise disappears before he can get her name or phone number but in a remarkable case of kismet, he just happens to board the same bus that she is riding eleven months later and not only is there still a spark between them, he finally manages to get her name and number before heading off to work with a spring in his step and a song in his heart. However, both come to a sudden halt when he arrives at the office to discover a group of mysterious men clad in hats and grey suits straight out of “Mad Men” doing all sorts of weird things to a colleague (Michael Kelly) whom he just told over the phone about his chance reunion with Elise.

David tries but fails to escape the grey flannel men and their leader, Richardson (John Slattery, thereby increasing the unconscious “Mad Men” connection), is forced to reveal their secret. They are members of the Adjustment Bureau, a group of otherworldly types who are charged with performing slight manipulations in the time-space continuum in order to ensure that the fates of the people they are tracking come to pass. It seems that David’s continued political ambitions are of the utmost importance to the future of mankind but they were entirely dependent on him never seeing Elise again after that first meeting--another adjuster (Anthony Mackie) was meant to ensure that David missed that bus but messed up. However, fate seems to continually conspire to throw the two of them over and over again despite the best efforts of Richardson and his men and eventually a sinister higher-up, Thompson (Terrence Stamp) steps in to demonstrate to David what fate has in store if he continues to be with Elise. Of course, David is convinced that he is the master of his own fate and that a force as strong as true love can outrank the cosmic order of things.

Needless to say, none of this has much to do with Dick’s original short story--the main character is just an ordinary guy and there is no equivalent of the Elise character to be had anywhere--outside of the basic conceit that what we think of as free will is essentially an illusion and that there are unknown forces working behind the scenes ensuring that things go as planned by any means necessary ranging from a spilled cup of coffee to a brain erase. In transposing this concept into a workable commercial screenplay, writer-director George Nolfi has come up with a premise that sounds good in theory but which winds up running into two major obstacles that it is unable to overcome. For one thing, if the notion of these mysterious forces working overtime in order to keep David and Elise apart is to have any impact at all, the reason for separating them has to be so compelling that even the most romantic-minded viewers will have to give it serious consideration. Without going into too much detail, it goes without saying that the reasons given by Thompson are a good deal less than compelling, or even especially believable, and as a result, most of the dramatic tension that should be on display in the film’s second half quickly dissipates. This problem could have been overcome in the end with a suitably powerful/devastating finale but again, the whole thing crumbles into an increasingly intolerable pile of mushiness that makes the tacked-on feel-good finale of the original cut of “Blade Runner” seem tough and unforgiving by comparison--again, without going into detail, this is one of those movies that spends the first 90 minutes or so telling us that certain things cannot possibly happen under any circumstances whatsoever and then spends the last 15 minutes suddenly dredging up loopholes so that those certain things can happen after all.

What makes “The Adjustment Bureau” such a frustrating experience is that many of its elements do work pretty well. Damon and Blunt do excellent jobs of bringing a human dimension to a story that could have easily become a cold and emotionless technical exercise--Blunt is so good here, in fact, that her performance inadvertently winds up underlining just how thinly written her role is by the way she makes her character seem essential to the narrative when it really isn’t. As a first-time director, Nolfi keeps things moving along in a brisk and efficient manner and demonstrates a eye for striking visual compositions that one doesn’t often see from a screenwriter making his directorial debut. (Of course, having an ace cinematographer like John Toll in charge of the camera doesn’t hurt.) Although one might expect a film of this type to be chock-full of elaborate special effects, it actually treads relatively lightly in that department but when it does delve into them, such as showing us the ways in which the Adjustment Bureau utilizes the doorways of the city as shortcuts, they are impressive without ever overwhelming the story or characters. So many things about “The Adjustment Bureau” do work, in fact, that I kept hoping throughout that it would somehow right itself and become the minor classic that it by all rights should have become.

Unfortunately, that correction never quite arrives and despite its numerous positive qualities, “The Adjustment Bureau” winds up missing the mark and ends with a series of silly scenes that seem to have been trucked in from another movie and tacked on in order to give the story the kind of cheap emotional uplift that it doesn’t require and which fits uneasily with the rest of the material. To be fair, it is a reasonably intelligent movie for a while, especially for a major studio offering, and its reliance on mind-blowing ideas instead of sensory-depriving explosions, especially in the first half, is somewhat of an encouraging sign. However, while it sets itself up marvelously, “The Adjustment Bureau” in the end simply fails on the follow-through and while the end result is a near-miss, it is nevertheless a miss.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20233&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/03/11 23:00:00
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User Comments

9/12/17 morris campbell cool mix of sci-fi & romance 4 stars
11/24/13 The rock Great mix of sci fi and romance 5 stars
8/24/12 roscoe god awful 1 stars
4/05/12 You who here I am Barkeep, another coffee please. 4 stars
12/24/11 debbie hodgdon the romance and suspense is what made it fun to watch 5 stars
10/20/11 Carol Miles I thought this pc would be fun...no, it's not a fun movie. Sorry. 3 stars
9/21/11 KingNeutron Fun to watch, insightful and entertaining - a bit like Matrix 5 stars
7/31/11 Monday Morning DVD does NOT let you FF thru suckbag previews. Points off! 2 stars
7/27/11 Gary A little predictable, but a good watch. 4 stars
6/15/11 My apples are rotting Seen better, endured worse. 3 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles Pretty good 4 stars
3/14/11 Kevin Beard I didn't like it. Great idea, boring execution. 3 stars
3/12/11 Luis Matt Damon doesn't disappoint! 4 stars
3/05/11 g. liked it a lot 4 stars
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  04-Mar-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Jun-2011

  04-Mar-2011 (12A)

  04-Mar-2011 (M)
  DVD: 21-Jun-2011

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