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Thread: The Adjustment Bureau

  1. #1
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    The Adjustment Bureau

    THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

    Directed by George Nolfi, U.S., (2011), 105 minutes

    We know that plans can change but the key question in first-time director George Nolfi’s thriller, The Adjustment Bureau, is whether or not “The Plan” can change. Very loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (J.D. Salinger would say “I told you so”), The Adjustment Bureau is a highly entertaining film, filled with an intriguing story line, enough action to keep us awake and focused, and a storybook romance in which the lovers actually have good chemistry together. On a philosophical level, however, calling it murky gives it more credit than it deserves.

    The premise of the film is that there is a “Plan”, that nothing happens by chance, and that free will is a comfortable illusion. According to Nolfi, our destiny is not guided by a loving universe but enforced by a cadre of cold “enforcers” who advise us to stay on the right path without question or our severed heads will be impaled on a spike on London Bridge for the tourists to take pictures of. These enforcers have been with us throughout human history except for the times when they took a vacation just to stand back and observe us stumblebums get ourselves into mischief like wars, depressions, and going to Justin Bieber concerts.

    As the film opens, Matt Damon is David Norris, a candidate for the United States Senate from New York and a young man who looks as if he has unlimited promise for future leadership roles. His campaign is attracting large crowds, though he never seems to talk about any issues. Riding high in the polls, his campaign goes off the tracks when the New York Post splashes a sensational story across the front page about a prank that he committed many years ago and his chances taste like the proverbial toast. On the night of his concession speech, however, Norris bumps into Elise Sellas (Emily Blount), an attractive young woman hiding from security in the men’s room after she crashed a wedding. It is almost contrivance at first sight, until she is chased out of the building by security without giving Norris her phone number.

    The chance (or so we think) meeting empowers David to make an honest concession speech which immediately makes him the front runner for the next Senate race, by which time it is assumed his reckless behavior in the past will have been forgotten (unless he decides to moon someone on the subway). Later, he meets Elise on the bus going to work who tells him that she is a professional dancer and gives him her phone number. Their relationship seems to be heading in the right direction until four mysterious spooks enter the picture and gum up the works. Their identity is never revealed, except that they are sort of mid-level enforcers for someone called The Chairman, a kind of a big shot sky captain who insists that “they do it my way”, even with no Sammy Davis, Jr. in the picture.

    Unlike the gentle angels in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, these guys are no fun to be around. One of the members is Richardson (John Slattery), a straight-laced, humorless kind of guy that you might find at a Tea Party rally. Another is Harry (Anthony Mackie) who was supposed to have prevented David form meeting Elise for the second time but bungled the job and later even becomes sympathetic to his charge, a no-no for these goofballs. When the spooks capture David, rather than treating him to a vegan dinner, they lead him into a cavernous ballroom to let him know in no uncertain terms that their Plan Book says that he and Elise should not be together and that he must stop seeing her immediately.

    As if that is not enough, they tell him that if their existence is revealed to anyone, even inadvertently, his brain will be “reset” which is enforcer-ese for Instant Oatmeal, presumably unflavored. The four guys have one motto and that is “keep your hat on”. Apparently their hats allow them to enter through one door and come out another door far away such as Yankee Stadium, The Statue of Liberty, or the subway during rush hour. Later someone tells David to “assume everyone with a hat on is a threat, no matter if it’s a beanie, a turban, or a yarmulke.” Hopefully, they won’t be put into magic ghettos. The enforcers carry iPad-looking devices which they use to change someone’s fate in real time, entering into someone’s mind to screw it up or at least prevent them from finding a taxi (doesn’t take a magician to do that in New York).

    Though we never meet the big cheese, we are privy to the company of Thompson, a “senior advisor” who looks and acts like the others, same great taste, fewer calories. Unable to find Elise because the guys burned her telephone number, poor David rides the same bus every day for three years hoping to see Elise again, though you’d think that after a while he might get the idea that she no longer rides this bus. Despite the important snowfall alert that both of their dreams of future glory will turn to mush if they insist on being together, David thinks that true love conquers all, and who knows, he might be right. After all, strong intention can overcome the most powerful force in the world - yourself.

    May the force be with you!

    GRADE: B+
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  2. #2
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    I cannot see from your summary why you call this a "highly entertaining." I didn't find it very successful and would not rate it anywhere near a B+. That's much too generous, in my view.

    I wrote a review of this, eight days ago, but may have forgotten to post it on this website. I'll add it below.

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    George Nolfi: THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011)
    Review by Chris Knipp


    MATT DAMON AND EMILY BLOUNT IN THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

    Beware of men in hats

    The Adjustment Bureau is one of those many movies Hollywood has delivered in which certain characters know what's going to happen to certain other characters and do their best to change things around, with mixed results. There are not very many characters we have to be aware of. Mainly, there's Emily Blount and Matt Damon. They are mere mortals, though talented ones: she heads an innovative dance company and he is a politician likely to rise not only from congressman to senator, but with the presidency a likely prospect down the line. He's young yet.

    Then come the adjusters, or fixers, or angels -- though most of them are not very nice at all. The issue hovering over the film is the old one of free will vs. determinism. The adjusters' job is to see that things follow a predetermined course decided on high. It seems blips occur every now and then down below in New York, and these fellows (it's a man's job, primarily a fedora-wearer's job) are in charge of nudging people back in line. They carry around little electronic notebooks, like iPads but with real pages and moving diagrams in them showing -- what? The trajectory of a person's life? Or his path across the Borough of Manhattan? It's not clear which. Maybe both, or either, depending on the urgency or grandeur of the moment. Emily and Matt are star-crossed lovers, and the adjusters are the ones who do the crossing.

    This story bears some resemblance to Christopher Nolan's Inception, only it's quite a bit simpler. Instead of going in and out of people's dreams, the adjusters go through doors, and their fedoras (or any kinds of hat, really, even a yarmulke) act as magical keys, permitting Adjustment Bureau members to appear and disappear through mysterious portals and avoid detection by ordinary mortals while they push people in one direction or another. The Bureau has many members, presumably, but we only get to know a few of them. There's John Slattery of "Mad Men," dressed just as nattily as on TV, including the fedora, but forced to get along without cocktails and cigarettes. Above him at a higher level is Terence Stamp, and above him Stamp's boss is somebody we don't really know, who in turn has a boss we never even see.

    At the outset Matt Damon's character is way ahead in the race for senator from New York. But he's young, and comes from a rough area, and the night he was first elected to Congress he got in a tavern brawl. Now he loses, when a video emerges just before the election showing him mooning his college classmates. It seems that on top of the more recent bar brawl the news of this earlier indiscretion is too much. He's not only young; he's unpredictable and immature. But was this video the adjusters' work? And since they seem to want him to become president, why derail his senate bid? It's not explained. Anyway just before his concession speech -- whose honesty about the tie and shoes he wears is enough to get him elected in a few more years (go figure) -- he meets Emily Blount for the first time in the Waldorf men's room. It's love at first sight.

    For some reason, and they themselves don't know what that reason is, the adjusters are bent on keeping Emily and Matt apart. And still Matt, who has never felt like this, goes chasing around looking for Emily -- except for a three-year period when he believes what Terrence Stamp has told him about why it's not a good idea for him and Emily to be together. But there is Anthony Mackie, a more kind-hearted adjuster who feels sorry for Emily and Matt when he sees how much they want to be together and wants to do something about it. He and Matt team up and Mackie lends Matt his fedora (see photo).

    Inception was hands-down the most over-hyped film of the year. But it was beautiful and ridiculously convoluted, and The Adjustment Bureau makes both these qualities in retrospect seem like virtues. This new film is relatively generic-looking, and all too easy to figure out. It's defenders say it is "most of all a love story." It is love story with an admix of hokum (instead of ordinary twists of fate) making the lovers' path uncertain.

    In a decisive little speech, George Nolfi's equivalent of Orson Welles' famous "cuckoo clock" improv in The Third Man, Terence Stamp tells Matt the human race was allowed free will for a while, but the "Dark Ages" resulted. So the Bureau took over, and the Renaissance resulted. Then they let humans take over, and we got World Wars I and II, so they took over again, and that's where things stand now. I did not find this explanation very satisfying. What about global warming, world hunger? Have the adjusters got those all under control?

    In a way this is a chase movie and it is nice to observe that this time the chases -- though they go through doors into warehouses and out of doors into athletic stadiums and finally from a door onto a parapet at the feet of the Statue of Liberty -- take place, for a change, almost entirely on foot. There's a car crash, and there are bus rides, and one of the adjusters gets hit by a car, but there are no car chases. No freeways; no Mini Coopers rolling down stairways. No facades of whole cities disintegrate digitally either. You could say George Nolfi keeps it simple.

    So simple, however, that The Adjustment Bureau is dry and bloodless and devoid of life. People run -- both around town, and for public office. Emily is a modern dancer, and she gets Matt to go dancing in a disco once, against his better judgment. People do not live in houses or apartments. They do not eat food. They do not sleep. They do not have sex. They do not go to the bathroom, except at the Waldorf, and then only to meet the man of their dreams while he is rehearsing a speech. This is a movie that's preposterous without being interesting. It lacks the everyday things that make life fun. Emily and Matt do their best to inject energy into their scenes but they're not together in real situations.

    George Nolfi, who debuts as a director here, did some of the writing for The Bourne Ultimatum and more of it for Ocean's Twelve. The idea came from Philip K. Dick. Though the movie departs considerably from Dick's original short story, "The Adjustment Team," it remains material for a short story, and its expansion into a $51 million feature film is not very satisfying.

  4. #4
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    Sorry

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Knipp View Post
    I cannot see from your summary why you call this a "highly entertaining." I didn't find it very successful and would not rate it anywhere near a B+. That's much too generous, in my view.

    I wrote a review of this, eight days ago, but may have forgotten to post it on this website. I'll add it below.
    I can see your points but I quite enjoyed it. I always enjoy Matt Damon and I thought he had good chemistry with Emily Blount. Of course as I pointed out, the philosophy is a muddled mess but it didn't get in the way for me.

    Didn't you at least find my review to be funny?

    By the way, Damon's character was not swayed by the fact that he was told to stay away from Emily. In fact, he rode the bus every day for three years looking for her.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  5. #5
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    By the way, Damon's character was not swayed by the fact that he was told to stay away from Emily. In fact, he rode the bus every day for three years looking for her.
    Yes, I noted that, with one important exception.
    And still Matt, who has never felt like this, goes chasing around looking for Emily -- except for a three-year period when he believes what Terrence Stamp has told him about why it's not a good idea for him and Emily to be together.
    Yes I could see you were trying to be cute about Justin Bieber concerts. I don't think saying you enjoy every movie Matt Damon is in is much of an argument in favor of this or any other movie, however. I don't share your admiration for all that he does. Some of his efforts seem much better than others. Only the rare actor is infallible in his choice of projects.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-13-2011 at 08:01 PM.

  6. #6
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    I didn't say he was infallible

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Knipp View Post
    Yes, I noted that, with one important exception.

    Yes I could see you were trying to be cute about Justin Bieber concerts. I don't think saying you enjoy every movie Matt Damon is in is much of an argument in favor of this or any other movie, however. I don't share your admiration for all that he does. Some of his efforts seem much better than others. Only the rare actor is infallible in his choice of projects.
    That's all you noticed - that I was trying to be cute about Justin Bieber? You must have lost your sense of humor somewhere in the Larchmont Hotel.

    If you noticed, I wasn't taking the film all that seriously or trying to analyze it. I just had fun at the movies and in writing my review. I hope that's not an unpardonable sin.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  7. #7
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    I guess your Canadian sense of humor was too subtle for me here at the Larchmont on a drowsy Sunday afternoon. Please forgive.

  8. #8
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    Canadian?

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Knipp View Post
    I guess your Canadian sense of humor was too subtle for me here at the Larchmont on a drowsy Sunday afternoon. Please forgive.
    My sense of humor is neither Canadian nor particularly subtle. It is universal (meaning humor has a universal appeal)
    Last edited by Howard Schumann; 03-14-2011 at 12:18 AM.
    "They must find it hard, those who have taken authority as truth, rather than truth as authority" Gerald Massey

  9. #9
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    An Improvement on Its Former Predecessor

    Sometimes an idea and a sequel that's not a sequel gets better with time and THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU does just that. With strong elements from "A Matter of Time," an episode of the contemporary THE TWILIGHT ZONE (January 26, 1986), MEN IN BLACK (1997), THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998,)THE MATRIX (1999), BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (1999), and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004), the movie script adapted from the amazing mind of the late Philip K. Dick's short story (whose written work inspired - A Scanner Darkly, 2006; Paycheck, 2003; Minority Report, 2002; Total Recall, 1990; Bladerunner, 1982) brings together the often times human element that is only experienced as a supporting role but in this movie is made the central element in this movie.

    The beginning scenes, especially with the John Slattery's character having an uneven tone between dramatic and wry humor, seem to almost take its manipulative premise almost too well and comes across just a scripted and manipulative for the audience as the characters in the movie itself. The Wil Smith character-look-a-like also is a bit distracting and his role in the movie seems a bit too obviously interfering and distracting somehow taking a little away from the totality of the movie's suspended authenticity.

    Overall though, this movie quickly merges into a finely honed character-driven, emotive and compelling dramatic thriller and allows its principal characters to show the audience (us) in a fantasy in a fantasy of how we ourselves would like to see ourselves. A genuinely solid and qualitatively superior film follows in the footsteps of THE SOLOIST (2009); THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998); CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977); Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004); Twelve Monkeys (1996); The Bourne Identity (2002); The Cooler (2003); Brazil (1985); Blade Runner (1982), Inception (2010), and Nomads (1986).

  10. #10
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    I can never understand your lists, what those movies esp. in your last paragraph have to do with each other. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is another one I couldn't share enthusiasm for, but it was much less received than SOURCE CODE, and is way down in the critics polls.

  11. #11
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    I wish I could understand myself sometimes

    Sometime I am going to have to discompose and examine my brain while I sift through just such a list looking for the connections among such films whch I drew together in probably a three or five second blitz per movie. Such a list does make for some deep questions about if I do have a brain. There really is a connection somewhere. If I find it, I'll post it.

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