Thursday 12 January 2012

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

A though-provoking science fiction drama examining the themes of destiny and free will, The Adjustment Bureau is smart, intriguing and visually attractive.

Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) loses a race for a New York Senate seat when an old embarrassing photo comes back to haunt his campaign. About to concede, he accidentally meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), and she inspires him to deliver a quirky concession speech that revitalises his career and sets him up for a future strong run at the Senate.

The agents of the Adjustment Bureau, including Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) and Richardson (John Slattery), are responsible to make sure that pre-determined destinies are fulfilled. But when Mitchell falls asleep on the job, David and Elise have another chance encounter on a bus, and their mutual attraction grows. Worse still, David stumbles onto members of the Bureau at work, exposing their existence. For reasons that David only gradually begins to understand, the Bureau needs to prevent the inadvertent romance from blossoming, and eventually the heartless agent Thompson (Terence Stamp) is summoned to help split the couple up.

Unfortunately, The Adjustment Bureau ends with a perfunctory foot race, Damon and Blunt holding hands and running as they chart a terrain-altering course through secret doors embedded in New York City. It's a contrived action-oriented ending to an otherwise clever film that manages to avoid most of the tiresome conventional elements of the routine thriller.

Prior to that ending, writer and first-time director George Nolfi, working from a Phillip K. Dick short story, constructs an elaborate debate about destiny and free will, David Norris a victim of a destiny that excludes falling in love with Elise, no matter how hard he tries to pursue her. The distinctively dressed agents employed by the Adjustment Bureau, with their particularly fetching hats, are an astute representation of the forces of destiny conspiring to manage events according to a pre-determined but poorly understood plan, while the passion waiting to take hold between David and Elise provides a worthy test of life's predetermined paths.

As the would-be lovers testing the bounds of free will, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt develop an immediate chemistry, his Congressman and her dancer a study in two different people immediate recognizing that they were meant for each other. Their scenes together leave no doubt that their souls are intertwining in joint readiness for a life-altering battle against the forces of normalcy.

Not unexpectedly, Nolfi ultimately manages to have it both ways by demonstrating both the strength of the pre-paved road and the courage of conviction needed to carve a new one.  The Adjustment Bureau is a challenge to deal with, but then so is life.

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