March 6, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (03/06/2011)

Lettergrade: B-

I found myself really liking big segments of The Adjustment Bureau, mostly due to the electric chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. But then - every once in a while - a scene would come up that would cause my enjoyment to grind to a screeching halt. Usually they were the ones where someone would begin to explain a little about what the Bureau is and what it does.

You see... it's kind of a non-denominational guiding force, sort of like a technologically minded group of guardian angels who all dress like they're auditioning for background work on Mad Men (and for no clear reason: the movie is set in present times). They use tactics like delaying your commute slightly, causing you to miss an important call, or getting you to run into someone you haven't seen in a while in order to make sure you are where you're supposed to be at key moments of your life and that you meet (or don't meet) the right people. Or in other words, that you stick to "The Plan." And who made The Plan? Well, it was made by the vaguely defined "Chairman," alternately referred to as "The Man Upstairs" - the movie's stand-in for whatever deity you happen to believe in, or not believe in.

It's not the non-committal theology that I have a problem with. The idea, based on a Phillip K. Dick short story called "The Adjustment Team", is a neat one, but it also seems like one that might be a bit more striking if the details had been allowed to remain a little fuzzy and if most of the activities of the Adjustment Bureau were left off camera. Indeed, once scenes like the ones I alluded to above were over, I quickly found myself again wrapped up in the love story between Damon's charismatic young politician and Blunt's sweet professional ballet dancer whom he meets and becomes intensely smitten with. They can't be together, says the Bureau, because The Plan forbids it, but Damon spends most of the movie trying anyway and quarreling with Bureau agents over matters of free-will versus fate.

Readers of this blog might know that I see most movies with my wife, and in our relationship she's the one who typically sees the positives and merits of a movie whereas I will become fixated on story points that seem kinda bullshitty and out of place and allow them to overrun things. This was a very rare example where the opposite was true: I was charmed enough by Damon, Blunt, and the quasi cool sci-fi concept of the picture to sort of forgive the things that didn't quite work. Laura, by contrast, was put off by the premise pretty much from the get go. She got a little worked up when we talked about it during the car ride home, seeming especially irked by the big sci-fi action climax at the end where Damon steals one of the "magic hats" that the Bureau agents use to travel around the city in order to prevent Blunt from marrying someone else, The Graduate style (egh, don't ask). She's got a point. That whole part was kind of, well... really stupid. On a crankier day, that - combined with some of those other Bureau scenes and the clearly reshot ending - maybe would have sunk the movie for me too.

More than the specifics, though, I think the overall premise didn't entirely sell her, and that's a complaint I've been hearing a number of other people who have seen it too. Honestly, though, whilst sitting in the theater I caught myself really enjoying the movie more often than not. It's interesting to see a medium-budget drama like this that seemed to be mostly made with adults in mind... it's a rare thing these days. While not perfect, it held my attention and gave me something to think about, which is probably more than Justin Bieber: Never Say Never would have done.

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