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Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Adjustment Bureau

Directed by: George Nolfi

Produced by: George Nolfi
Chris Moore
Michael Hackett
Bill Carraro
Isa Dick Hackett
Joel Viertel

Screenplay by: George Nolfi

Based on: Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick

Starring: Matt Damon
Emily Blunt

Music by: Thomas Newman

Cinematography by: John Toll

Editing by: Jay Rabinowitz

Studio: Media Rights Capital

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): March 4, 2011

Running time: 101 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $50.2 million

Box office revenue: $127, 869, 379


As ever, I seem to take an age between reviews, finding some lame-ass excuse to not continue with my endeavours and simply sit around (rather ironically) with cans of beer and packets of crisps watching Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me. Anywho, I have seen The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn and Hugo, so expect to see reviews for them soon. Also, as mentioned in my previous post, I will be starting a new blog in which I cast myself as a sort of despotic producer with every tool at his disposal, and proposing to you my fantasy adaptations from a number of sources into the medium of film. My first post will be my 'adaptation' of Metal Gear Solid, so (in keeping with the buzz-phrase of the new blog), keep your eyes open!

Okay, today we're getting down to reviewing The Adjustment Bureau. I've been talking about reviewing The Adjustment Bureau for a couple of months since picking up a copy for £5 in Tesco a while back, but before I get down to it, here's a bit of a preamble to give you some context. The film is adapted from the short story Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick, who is probably hands-down my favourite author. I first fell in love with his work via A Scanner Darkly, and have been nothing than entranced by his singular visionary and accessible style. Readers, do yourselves a favour at get some of K. Dick's work, because it is pure gold dust. With a (primarily) science-fiction author as it's source, Matt Damon as its star and having emerged in the wake of Inception, the geniuses of film marketing have promoted The Adjustment Bureau under Total Film's silly buzz phrase "Bourne Meets Inception." For starters, whoever came up with that editorial wonder seems to have come up with it so that it makes the UK DVD cover. The big problem though is that it gives the completely wrong impression of the film itself, so readers, go in with an open mind and do not give in to preconceived ideas you may have got from this. The Adjustment Bureau follows David Norris (Matt Damon), an up-and-coming politician, whose campaign crashes whenever photos of him mooning former classmates at a reunion party emerge. On the plus side, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a woman who he immediately engages and becomes infatuated with. However, after the two cross paths again, a group of men (the eponymous Adjustment Bureau) threaten David to never see Elise again, as it is not part of 'the plan.' As such, the plot advances from this point on.

To start off with my review for The Adjustment Bureau, it must be said that despite the "Bourne Meets Inception" label, at heart this film is first and foremost a romance. In this aspect, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are terrific. I've always liked Matt Damon, and his role as Norris, both as the lover and the charismatic politician, shows yet another layer to his talent. In the case of Emily Blunt, it's easy to understand why Norris becomes so infatuated with her: she oozes charm and sexuality, not in an overt manner, but in the way that actresses such as Grace Kelly and Ingrid Bergman did, through naturalism. You can't help but feel good every time the two share the same space onscreen, as their romance comes across with conviction and genuine, which is more than can be said for most romance films. They deliver their dialogue as though everything is pure improvisation, and it makes for some great cinema. Also, George Nolfi, who had previously scribed The Bourne Ultimatum, handles this, his debut feature, very well. It would have been easy to overindulge in certain aspects of the story, but Nolfi keeps it fine, and has a great sense of pacing. Throughout you get this feeling of a momentous forward drive that doesn't stop the film's conclusion. John Toll's cinematography also contributes to this. It has a wonderful look about it, capturing the film's drama and the romance between David and Elise, but also having the ability to switch tones/moods. The lighting in the scenes with the Adjustment Bureau are suitably dark and expressionistic, while David and Elise, quite literally, bring light to the lives of one another. Finally, the production design is to be noted, for despite this being a 'science-fiction' film, it is only science-fiction in the loosest sense of the term: the design and locations embed the film firmly into the real world, adding to the paranoiac tension that is prescient throughout.

As much as I like The Adjustment Bureau, there are a number of issues involved with this production. Although Damon and Blunt deliver their dialogue well, George Nolfi's script is very flawed. Admittedly, this movie is a tough sell, and it is admirable in it's attempts to do something different, but the script tries to cover too many different topics and doesn't end up bringing much of substance to the plate. It deals with romance, politics, paranoia, free will, predestination, Christian themes and the idea of omnipresent forces behind the scenes. In dealing with that many topics, while catering to a certain audience, there are times when The Adjustment Bureau falls flat on its face. Too much is shoved in to deal with in ninety-nine minutes, and they are not dealt with in any great detail. If it had been made to be a 130-140 minute film, it may have worked better and they could have a stronger story, as opposed to presenting us something that feels like an oversized suitcase. Also (without spoiling the film), the ending is an anticlimactic, botched affair that just stops as opposed to giving the film any true sense of conclusion. Finally, I was not a fan of the use of Thomas Newman's compositions. Hear me out: I did like Newman's work, I just wasn't a fan of how it was implemented in the film. In the post-production process, I feel there was a lot of watering down done, and in the finished product, which remains a challenging movie (in a good way) no matter how much tinkering has been done, this sense of artificiality comes through. I think that they simply were stuck between a rock and a hard place, dealing with a tough sell and compromising to try and make it appeal to a mainstream audience. Nowhere is this more prominent than in the use of Newman's music, which is placed in scenes 'appropriately' to imply, rather overtly, what we should be feeling. Once again, EHO (Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra) makes an appearance, gouging an otherwise great movie.

It's a shame, because I think The Adjustment Bureau is a very good film. Damon and Blunt give the audience one of the most legitimate screen romances I have seen in some time. Also, George Nolfi has an efficiency about his direction, and the film has some great cinematography and production design. However, the script comes across as watered down and compromised, while the use of Thomas Newman's music (not the music itself) ensures that we are being told what we are meant think and what to feel. Much as I like it (how can you not like a film with Terence Stamp pitching in a great bit part?), The Adjustment Bureau will not rank among the great adaptations of K. Dick, such as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report or A Scanner Darkly. That said, it is certainly not in the category of 2003's abysmal Paycheck, and while I feel it may be forgotten about, deserves to be remembered as a good solid film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Excited (off from Uni, lots of films to review!)

P.S. Dear Total Film, please don't use silly 'poster phrases' like "Bourne Meets Inception" to describe this film: it is nowhere near as much a science-fiction film as Inception, and is only a science-fiction in the basest sense. Also, it is a bit stupid to put Bourne onto any film that stars Matt Damon. That's like marketing The Departed as 'Bourne Meets Goodfellas' or Invictus under 'Bourne Meets Mandela!'

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