Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: George Nolfi

Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 3/4/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 3, 2011

There's a decided lack of information within the unraveling of the mystery behind the plot of The Adjustment Bureau that is equal parts admirable and frustrating. It's admirable because the story (suggested by the short story "Adjustment Team" by Philip K. Dick) holds ambiguity in such high order—frustrating because it nearly drowns in the stuff.

Enigmatic forces are at work, in the form of men in overcoats and wearing fedoras who strut with determined purpose from one place to another—sometimes changing locations in a few seconds with the help of shortcuts that bend the rules of space and time—and those men's higher-ups. By the end of the movie, we've probably only seen as high as the shadowy organization's middle management level, but even that's open for debate, as there always seems to be another employee in the next pay-grade up until the "Chairman," who, if he/she/it even exists, knows the Plan and its variations but doesn't want anyone else to know the full extent of them.

This is too much too soon, though. Who and what these men are—and for whom or what they work—is either insignificantly vital or vitally insignificant. They hold the power to change destiny, by either directly interfering with events through telepathic means or by changing the way people perceive the world and their choices in it by through altering the brain, but they only can exploit that power a certain number of times, on a certain number of people, and with certain level of modification to the Plan.

The Plan involves, as far as we can tell, all humankind and particularly David Norris (Matt Damon), a candidate for the United States Senate whose tragic (both parents and a brother died while he was young) and often reckless (He's infamous for a bar fight, and a college prank wrecks his chances in this election) past makes him a favorite for his enthusiasm and his ideals. As the tide shifts against him, while preparing his concession speech in the men's room of the hotel, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a professional dancer hiding from security for crashing a wedding (The scene that follows is one of which screenwriters should take note for how to reveal just the right amount of information about two romantic leads who meet for the first time while suggesting and, in this case, fulfilling a mutual attraction).

They kiss. It is unexpected and passionate. They separate—he to give a speech and she to run from security—and, by chance, run into each other a few months later as they both ride on the same bus.

David was not supposed to be on the bus. Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), a member of the agency, had orders from his boss Richardson (John Slattery) to cause David to spill coffee on himself, causing him to return home and be late to work that day. Instead, the Plan diverges, as Mitchell watches in horror in his notebook with lines and markers like a GPS system, signifying much to him and not much to us. David arrives to work on time and sees the well-dressed men and others in black and helmets scanning and probing his frozen co-workers. Richardson and his fellows explain the existence of Plan. He must not tell anyone or risk having his memory wiped, giving the appearance that he has gone insane.

The political and psychological elements of the results of bureau's tampering (or, as they'd call it, keeping things on course) hold most of the intrigue here, especially, for the latter, near the end as David must attempt to convince Elise of elements at work behind their continual separation while sounding as though he's suffering from paranoia. The former is summed up well by Elise, who begs David to continue running for office during their first meeting, otherwise the country is destined to be run by "tools" like his opponent. "It already is," he responds, both meaning it one way as the irony becomes clear later.

Instead, writer/director George Nolfi works against those sinister underpinnings with a story of two lovers destined to be together as forces beyond their control drive them apart. There's debate of free will, supposedly encapsulated by David's drive to constantly reunite with Elise although, from the bureau's agents' own mouths, even that desire is part of an older version of the Plan.

While a more explanatory handling of the material would probably defeat the purpose, there's no denying the sense of wanting to know more about what's happening underneath the surface of The Adjustment Bureau. It seems, not just from plain, old curiosity, but also a shortage of substance in what's present.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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