Sunday, 27 March 2011

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Blade Runner. Minority Report. Total Recall. Any of these ring a bell? Perhaps they do. Perhaps you are in the know and recognise the origins of these classic stories as the genius work of Philip K. Dick. A pioneer in science fiction, he dedicated his entire life to exploring and publishing works on the genre and I for one am thankful for it.

The Adjustment Bureau is the latest efforts of his to be adapted into a Hollywood film. Starring Matt  Damon and Emily Blunt, it is a tweaked version of his short story titled  Adjustment Team written in 1954, with director/writer George Nolfi (writer; The Bourne Ultimatum) making alterations from the original by changing names, events and narrative, yet the deviation plunges his project into the 'unknown quantity' category, but claims to maintain the quintessential elements of the premise.

Politician David Norris (Matt Damon) is running for Congress when a chance meeting with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in a restroom sparks an instant love affair. However, a secret organisation known as the Adjustment Bureau, a team of all seeing, all knowing men who adjust humanity's fate, deem that the pair are not 'scheduled' to meet again in their lives. But when they cross paths after a blunder from Norris's minder Harry, (Anthony Mackie) whom fails to adjust his fate, higher figures within the Bureau are forced to step in and prevent the pair from ever finding one another, as doing so will alter their fates for the worse.

It's worth noting that Damon and Blunt initially do a convincing job of creating chemistry and set up interesting characters and, thanks to the screenplay, an intriguing story worth exploring. Nolfi's clearly put his all into the project, yet something about the character development, plot and overall progression is lacking.

It's clear the material presented to Damon and Blunt restricted them in terms of showing off their acting palette. The characters they portray are one dimensional, which is somewhat disappointing after the glimpse of their potential during their first on screen encounter. Admittedly being a bigger follower of Damon than Blunt, it felt like a step back in his career after such prominent roles as Jason Bourne (Bourne Trilogy) and Detective Sullivan (The Departed) to emerge with, at times, a bland and 'mushy' performance that failed to live up to the misinformed claim that the film was 'Bourne meets Inception'. The Adjustment Bureau is neither of these. In fact the amount of action and thrilling elements are severely lacking amongst a preachy, slow moving story about the powers that control life and indeed the planet's destiny. A little too spiritual in places, being somewhat of an atheist, I was left feeling alienated and frankly unconvinced by it's uninspiring plot.

What initially raised expectations were certain aspects regarding the trailer which, whilst it wasn't amazing, pulled me into the world where mysterious men in overcoats control the fates and lives of everyone. Yet even the trailer had problems fizzling out into a weak conclusion, which ultimately reflected in the finished product.

It's important to address some key issues to demonstrate the film's  problems which include inconsistency and questionable logic. The Adjustment Team affirm themselves as an all mighty power over the world. The team are  lead by Richardson (Mad Men's John Slattery) gives the impression that him and his trilby wearing men could do anything, be anywhere, similar to The Matrix's Agent Smith. But as the narrative progresses, we quickly learn that these so-called 'rulers of fate' are no more than sloppy, bumbling fools, thus undermining what they stand for.

Therefore, with no clear threat or fear factor from the Bureau, it makes it difficult to evoke any real concern for our protagonists and fails to create genuine tension within the story. More worrying is the thin and poorly directed plot which, after the characters are established, struggles to build momentum or muster any constructive progression.

Support from Michael Kelly as Norris's political advisor, Charlie, is under used and as the build up to the film's climax is played out, he is nowhere to be seen as the focus becomes solely on David and Elise and their seemingly hopeless attempt to be together, which involves a lot of running and pushing people out of the way.

Towards the latter stages of the film it feels like it doesn't really know where the story is heading, as a conclusion doesn't render logical or conceivably consistent with the premise. As it turns out the climax was bitterly underwhelming as well as ambiguous, and not in a positive way. The result leaves me confused and pondering what exactly it was I witnessed for the 100 or so minutes. Saying that, it  wasn't all a complete wreck. The acting shone with glimmers of quality but the pacing, or lack thereof, left me bored with little plot twist or development.

The original idea from Dick was interesting, as is its concept, yet Nolfi's alterations appear to have stalled what great potential it had. Sadly the story is weak and uninteresting, coupled by a lack of pace and direction required for its genre. Topped off by a lacklustre climax, The Adjustment Bureau becomes a sluggish chore to watch for most parts, while the point of the whole thing remains ambiguously unresolved to say the least, which left me questioning why I even cared in the first place. Compared to Dick's other adaptations, this falls way short of the quality of the aforementioned Blade Runner or Minority Report, which were well executed, superbly directed, atmospheric sci-fi thrillers. The Adjustment Bureau sadly isn't.


Sources : Internet Movie DataBase
Images :  Google Images