Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Love: The Adjustment Bureau

The New York Times just published an article about free will, the gist being that the more you believe that you’re the agent of your own future, the happier and more moral you tend to be. It’s a concept we are desperate to believe in and have spent centuries trying to prove and disprove without much in terms of official evidence. Based on a story by the ultimate free-will examiner Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau, preys on that collective hope and angst, wrangling difficult philosophical questions without losing the audience in the muck of its own theories.
David (Matt Damon), our free will protagonist, should have met Elise (Emily Blunt) only once, her impulsive behavior an inspiration to him just moments before he gave speech that was to announce a crippling political loss in the New York Senate. That one-time event would alter David’s path and send him directly to the White House a few years later. David and Elise were not meant to meet again according to the plan designed by the mysterious Chairman and executed by the Adjustment Bureau. But those in control did not account for “chance,” and the two continue to run into each, their connection undeniable, even when their love threatens their lives, dreams, and possibly the rest of the world.
Bureau is a powerful film, a mix of old Hollywood magic and deep philosophical soul-seeking that skates across a variety of genres and topics without alienating the audience with too many concepts or too much saccharine sentiment. The film succeeds because it doesn’t focus on the hi-brow, but on the people, the deeper existential questions growing organically from their personal reactions to their situation. This rests entirely on the shoulders of Blunt and Damon who make Elise and David into full, living beings. Their chemistry is relaxed but intense, their rapport instant. From the first moment of “love at first sight,” their relationship is instantly engaging and believable, and sets up the emotional context of the film. While their characters may be extraordinary in their professions, love, and story arcs, Blunt and Damon break down the walls that lesser actors put up. Although I’m one of Inception’s biggest defenders, DiCaprio’s performance there as an equally fate stricken rebel is utterly laughable in the face of Damon’s in this film. The combined strength of the Damon/Blunt duo, aided by Anthony Mackie's equally subtle but effective performance as a traitorous member of the Bureau keeps the film far above schmaltzy waters and makes the film authentic, allows it to go deeper.
Subtlety is the name of the game in Bureau, in the performances and the general stitching together of all the film’s elements. The Adjustment Bureau tracks David and Elise in Moleskine-like notebooks, their intricate fate lines moving dynamically yet delicately across the pages and as the Bureau members travel, they open normal doors into fantastical new places. But the CGI never distracts from the film. The sets are art deco enough to lend the film a clean look befitting one of its main characters; Gotham City. Thomas Newman’s score is properly glittery and mysterious (even if it does sound like his work on similarly themed films like Meet Joe Black and American Beauty), my only complaint being that it’s broken up with too many loud, blaring rock songs that make certain scenes feel disjointed.
Bureau is a short film, topping out at just about an hour and half. It’s a concise, entertaining love story that relies on our connection to the characters to engage us, not the work that it takes to unpack its concepts, even though those concepts will stick with you for days after. As it is in real life, we never really know what or why things happen, b ut the film doesn’t leave you unsatisfied. Instead it perfectly replicates that feeling you get when, somehow, against all odds, things work out and you wonder just who or what was looking out for you.

1 comment:

  1. A well made and more thoughtful film than you might be expecting.

    Well acted with a believable romance, a light dusting of Sci-Fi and a great story. "Inception" lite perhaps, which is certainly recommendation enough for any film.


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