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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

John Slattery smells Matt Damon's fear. 

Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Adjustment Bureau is that it marks the beginning of George Nolfi's feature film career. A hopefully long and fulfilling one. And if his later films prove to be anywhere near as affirming and thoughtful as this one, we're all in for one treat after another. Internally, however, the most impressive thing about this film is how few special effects are needed to make this thriller effective. Inception, while a brilliant and beautiful film, is riddled with computer generated imagery. As is The Matrix, just as brilliant and beautiful. What makes this film brilliant and beautiful, on the same level as the aforementioned ones, is that its thrills come from within. There are heavy religious overtones, there are believable relationships amongst the characters, and the most carefully realized hypothesis the film makes isn't whether or not we live in a computer program, or whether or not we can infiltrate dreams to commit crimes, but whether or not we can control our destiny. And whether or not we're wearing the proper hat to do so.

More after the cut --
Matt Damon is a senator, who seems to be being groomed to run for President of our country. After losing an election due to some underhanded mud-slinging, he meets a beautiful dancer played by Emily Blunt. Immediately, we get the feeling that these two are supposed to be together forever. Because, well, they are. That much is obvious, from the start. What we don't know, is why this team of mean in nice suits and funny hats are trying so desperately to stop them from ever meeting again. 

The Adjustment Bureau, as they call themselves, can control inconveniences with the flick of a finger. Your coffee spills, and you probably just avoided getting hit by a car. You leave the water on and have to go back home to turn it off, you just missed meeting the woman who'll take half of your possessions in the next year or so. They do a service, and a credible one at that. But, of course, they are flies and get damned for buzzing around us. Most thrillers avoid having antagonists you can emotionally be grateful for. That is where the brilliance of this film lies - it is at once heartwarming, thought provoking, and if you look at it existentially, it's scary as hell. We have free will, so long as we do what we're supposed to. We can decide what we're having for breakfast, but... if you want a career change? You're probably going to tear your pants the morning of your job interview. 

David Morris, the senator in question, wants no part of their conditional free will. His destiny is his own, and fate or its agents be damned if anyone gets in his way. Then again, everyone has to do their job, right? It doesn't matter if the bureau agrees with what's happening, it's just what has to happen. They have the choice to do their job, and they do. To the fullest extent that they can. Even if that means tearing apart two people who are madly in love, and threatening to make people clinically insane if they disobey. They call it a "factory reset" and there's a chilling reality/playfulness to the way they approach their work. Pepper into the plot one agent who can sympathize with Damon and Blunt, and knows his way around some paper work? We're on one fantastic ride through New York City in search of love, life, and all their answers. 

Damon has always imbued a certain likability into his roles. He's the cocky and self-confident alpha male in everything he does, and within that he can be the most vulnerable person you'll ever lay eyes on. He's a specific, and eerily gifted actor. Emily Blunt is the same way, but to a different extreme. Always sexy, though she can't help it, and always ego-certified, but her vulnerability hides beneath layers of pretending she's a steel cage. These actors are perfectly matched. John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, and Terrence Stamp make up the most important and present members of the bureau, and each of them are like every day accountants. They have problems, faults, exposition, hopes, dreams, the works. Stamp plays his character more like a mob boss, but it works for the setting. He's the guy you go to when you can't get it done. Mackie's character is more... of a fixer, so to speak. 

Looking at this film from a technical standpoint, it seems almost dormant. There isn't anything too flashy. Doors opening to places that couldn't feasibly be on the other side is probably the most intricate thing the film does. It has a sci-fi tilt to it, but the film is always more of a romantic drama than anything else. Based on a Philip K. Dick novel (like every other film today seemingly is), that isn't surprising. Science-fiction has always been more of a background article to him than human emotions or existentialism. He was a philosopher before anything else. What makes the film so special, however, is the embedded human connection to all of the science-fiction, and brilliant answers to the eternal question of life: if it's all predestined, why do we even get out of bed? Because we have to.