Friday, February 11, 2011

It's an Adjustment, But a Good One

The reviews have been coming slowly but surely recently (sorry, blame work piling up), but after seeing Rabbit Hole a second time yesterday (still a great movie, still wouldn't make my Top Ten simply because its strength is in the performances, not the overall film) and seeing the trailer for the new film The Adjustment Bureau attached, I realized I had to write a review of the new thriller just to talk about what the movie really is, as opposed to what it's being marketed as.

Wow, this movie looks so serious! Too bad it kinda isn't!

I seriously don't get what the marketing team is doing. When I saw The Adjustment Bureau last week, I was impressed by a fun thriller that relied heavily on the talents and chemistry of its leads, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, to great effect. When I watched the trailer, I thought I was watching a cut of the next Bourne film.

Make no mistake: while writer-director George Nolfi did work on The Bourne Ultimatum (a critical favorite from four years back that wound up with three Oscars), this is not Bourne 4. This is a different film that isn't afraid of a sense of humor or a sense of the whimsical. All involved realize the premise (there are a group of men who adjust what's happening in the world so it matches a master plan) is a bit of a lark, but instead of trying to sell it with great gravitas, they decide to have fun instead.

Damon is treading familiar ground here as Congressman David Norris, playing the affable guy everyone loves who can also run like hell. But he's never appeared quite as light as he does here, like this is his favorite mask to wear. His character is underdeveloped, but what is there is well-used. Blunt is even better as mysterious dancer Elise Sellas. She sells the lighter-than-air quality of her character, and her chemistry with Damon is flawless. They feel like the next Gable and Colbert: two stars with charm oozing out of every pore that have a great back-and-forth energy. Blunt's charm is particularly effusive: she may be written as a fantasy girl of sorts, but Elise seems so real that we understand the stakes for Damon's weary David.

Yes, the plot has problems: in particular, we never get to really know David. Is he really the bad boy everyone claims he is? Why do we never see any real evidence of that now? Why does he so immediately fall in love with Elise? Truly, the supposed "high concept" premise is much easier to understand than the motivations of our protagonist. It's not a fatal problem, but it does waste the chemistry between the stars a bit--they deserved a more fully-baked script than this.

Speaking of that high concept, it's pulled off fairly well. Much of the more complex mythology buried in the original short story is excised for a more streamlined, interesting story. Anthony Mackie does strong, subtle work in his "good bad guy" role, but the villain switch halfway through the film (away from the great John Slattery and to the more over-the-top Terrence Stamp) makes the film a little too inconsistent for its own good. And the ending's a bit of a cop-out, sadly. But the direction is solid, if unremarkable, and the two stars more than make up for any of the film's failings. There's no reason not to visit this Bureau. B

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