The Adjustment Bureau is waiting for Godot

The Adjustment Bureau – 2011

Written and Directed by George Nolfi

Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery,  Anthony Mackie, Anthony Ruivivar, Terence Stamp, Michael Kelley

Based on “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick

Awakening to a world outside and within your own

There is a lot of talk about free will in The Adjustment Bureau.  With a series of officers who looked like they stepped out of Mad Men, the Chairman of the Board has a plan that involves man’s belief that they have free will.  They have stepped into the life of David Norris (Damon) time and again, causing grave problems for his father and his brother.

“All you need to know,” he tells his true love, Elise (Blunt), “Is that you are being chased.”

What are the plans for Norris?  Wisdom, they say, is in the question.  George Nolfi wisely chose to not answer many of the questions that arise in this story.  Instead, we are treated to a bunch of doors that open to places that make little sense to us, and maps that show nothing until the last frames.  We never do find out who the Charman is, although we have all experienced him (or her) in some way or another.

Norris is moving along through a life that started roughly, and he is on the verge of making a breakthrough in politics when a minor scandal derails him.  Into his life drops Elise, at the moment he needs to have inspiration, and voilà, he gives the speech of his life.  A chance followup meeting with Elise the following morning throws a wrench in the plans of the men in the hats, and they set upon the task of derailing their blossoming romance.

Trying to explain what you're not sure you understand...

What follows is an inspired collection of interactions between The Bureau that establishes the promise, the failings and choice to act on either of these in humanity.  There is a lot of really good dialogue in this film between David and Elise, David and members of The Bureau, and The Bureau within itself.  There are a few rough spots, like when they try to shoehorn in real people into the story (the awkward interaction with James Carville comes to mind).  Overall, though, Damon excels at playing the curious every man, thrust into an incredible situation, and then some.

Matt Damon has a unique relatability to the average film goer.  Unlike actors like Johnny Depp and Angelia Jolie in the recently reviewed trash pile, The Tourist, Damon is not afraid to show someone on screen who does not have the answers.  Not entirely clueless, but seeking, it is his journey towards the truth that the viewer must accept for the story to work.  Damon is at times baffled, frustrated, furious, plotting and risk taking.  Blunt, in the same vein, goes from a meet cute to a girl baffled by cupid.  She tries to move forward, with each encounter of Damon’s Norris, but each break brings a more confused and resigned person.  Both principals sell their parts well.

Mackie and Slattery going up the line

As for agents, I think these roles are perfectly played.  Knowing just enough to match their level in the Bureau, but no more, we are shown a kind of hierarchy where the frustration mounts the further down you are on the chain.  This is perhaps exemplified best by Slattery, who plays the classic middle manager.  He is given a measure of competence, but he has limitations, even if he can look behind the curtain.  Mackie plays a lower rung agent, torn between what his heart tells him is right, and the orders he’s been given.  His expressions are the most human, and the most angelic both.  Mackie is a good actor who can express much with minimal effort.  I look forward to his work in the future.  Stamp makes another triumphant turn as an aptly played heavy hitter.  His ability to deliver stark dialogue is peerless.

The Adjustment Bureau is a challenge for the mind.  It makes no promises and opens plenty of doors of thought.  The ending is a bit of a cop out, but it can be forgiven for the fact that even with the choices made, you still have a sense of wonder as the credits start to roll.

(**** out of *****)

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