The Adjustment Bureau Review

March 17, 2011 at 1:13 am (Movies)

It wasn’t until the middle of February in 2010 that I found my first 5/5 worthy film in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”, a heart pounding, gut-wrenching, brilliantly performed thriller that left my jaw on the floor and set a huge standard for the rest of the year, ending up as my #4 favorite by December. As February came and went and so did forgettable films like “I Am Number Four”, my hopes were starting to wane in general for 2011 in general when it came to movies and when exactly I was gonna get that first truly great film worthy of that perfect score. With immaculate cinematography one heck of a great execution that covers all bases on an already fantastic premise, The Adjustment Bureau is a knock out of a director knowing exactly what film he wanted to make and polishing it up just enough to make it an unforgettable adventure that is not only my favorite film of 2011 so far but if it doesn’t end up in the top five come December, it means the last half of 2011 had some phenomenal films that topped this colossal bar. The film follows Devin Norris, a hopeful senator that falls in love by happen stance with one of New York City’s best up and coming dancers. However, it’s soon revealed that falling in love with her isn’t part of his or her “plan” according to the “adjustment bureau” , a group of fedora-capped men in suits gifted with supernatural abilities that are there to make sure things in the world go to plan. The majority of the film works like a game of cat and mouse between Norris and these mysterious men with Norris trying to convince the bureau to let him write his own path. Whenever I first saw the trailer for the film back last March before the film was delayed, I was convinced that A) I wanted to see the film desperately and B) that there’s no chance the film could live up to my expectations and deliver on such a profound concept with themes of fate and “love that conquers all”.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. The Adjustment Bureau introduces this concept of a mysterious group of men that in control fate in a very profound but unexplained way. Towards the end of the film (without spoiling anything) part of their “powers” gets explained and exploited in a way that only sheds just a crack of light on this fantastic quadre of villains. Same goes for the rest of the film, you see these men maybe in the background of a scene or constantly doing something malicious to sabotage Norris. You’re never even told why these men are out to get him and his romance other than it’s “against the plan”, and that works brilliantly. They’re supposed to be mysterious, you’re never supposed to know just quite what these guys can do fully, and by the end you have just as many questions as you do answers. I 100% believe this was intentional and maybe there’s some deeper subtext there about how fate works in mysterious ways, or maybe I’m just reading too far into this. By the end of the film we’ve been told this modern day fable about this fascinating visualization of fate itself and how its taken a certain form that just so happens to marry these ideas of science fiction and romance in a way that’s honestly darn hard to leave the viewer wanting more. There’s no unexplored concept here, no stone left unturned when it came to implementing our own ideas of fate and even religion and molding them into a enthralling film inhibiting an amazing concept brought to life. It’s phenomenal and really shows talent on a director’s part when he can bring a concept like that to the table and leave me as a viewer that was asking quite a bit from the film walking away completely satisfied with how the answers (and even some lingering questions) were brought about. It’s insane to think he packs such a fascinating message in a two hour film and does it so efficiently. Matt Damon brought to life one of the best performances from last year in the Coen Brothers’ “True Grit:” as Texas Ranger “Labeouf”.  Half of the film Damon has to play a character with a speech impediment that at the same time is cocky and reliable. Here he turns in another awesome performance that makes us question why this guy hasn’t won an Oscar yet despite consistently great performances in “The Informant!”, “The Departed”, or heck even “True Grit”. Seriously, John Hawkes? Thanks for breaking out of that stereotype of being stuck up Academy Awards by nominating a guy for the movie 15 people saw. There are professional movie bloggers I follow that didn’t even watch “winter’s Bone”, in fact I think there are more people that saw “Mars Needs Moms” or “Take Me Home Tonight” than “winter’s Bone”. Also, Mark Ruffalo for Best Supporting Actor for “The Kids Are All Right” but absolutely no recognition for his smarmy, know-it-all role in Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom”. Now that my Oscar rant is out of the way cough *Melissa Leo stole the Oscar from Steinfeld*cough, we can move on to the performance at hand. One could argue that part is a tad bit underwritten by protagonist standards, but the guy is undeniably great in The Adjustment Bureau at bringing a character off of the page straddling the line between an everyday man sense of believability along with a really genuine way of reading his lines that makes it seem like he believes in every last word he’s saying. Also whenever the script calls on him to channel his inner action star Mr. Bourne is more than happy to assist. Emily Blunt is also fantastic as the romantic lead, and her British accent (whether or not it’s genuine is unbeknownst to me) adds a nice flavor to the film. On the “adjustors” side of things are Mad Men’s John Slattery and Terence Stamp as one of the bureau’s “higher ups”.  John Slattery does an unbelievable job as sort of the middleman for the adjustment bureau that likes to talk a big game but you get the feeling that he’s always just covering his tracks and planning his next move as it happens. Terrence Stamp, known for being the classic bad guy in a lot of recent films like the underrated comedy “Get Smart”, portrays the “second in command” for the bureau as a guy that is apparently so high up on the corporate ladder he gets to wear a fedora, a three piece suit, AND a scarf. I guess now would be the best time to explain that the adjustment bureau might just be the best-dressed squad of evildoers in movie history. I wanna shop where these guys shop. If Terence Stamp is as cool as he is being the film’s main bad guy and he’s still below the chairman, I’d hate to see how awesome his boss must be.

Back in January I took a trip with a group from my college to the Big Apple, New York City, and The Adjustment Bureau taking place in New York City created an added layer of enjoyment for it becoming a “Hey I’ve been at that place!” scavenger hunt. Some are complaining about the “drab” color scheme of the film, but believe me, that’s what New York looks like. Everything’s gray and a washed out shade of blue, plus the whole time the adjustment bureau was pursuing us. The filmmakers made the most of shooting in the gorgeous city grabbing every beautiful skyline they could and really provoking a sense of geography whether that’s coming in the handsome boardrooms or the final chase scene that I can’t praise enough for being a super effective showcase of such beautiful locations like the Statue of Liberty, Yankee Stadium, Radio City Musical Hall, and the final confrontation ending on the Top of the Rock, having seen 3 of those 4 sights in person the latter gives the best view of the city by far. Kudos to the filmmakers involved for getting a beautiful sunrise in there as well overlooking Central Park and even the Empire State Building in the far distance. For a relatively small budget the film also has a handful of phenomenal effects that even left me asking how they did it (a question I never asked last summer might I add) with a clever plot twist near the end involving the city’s doors that is vaguely reminiscent of Monsters, Inc. None of the effects draw attention to themselves, they’re just there to blow your flipping mind time and time again. Saying the film looks great gets the point across. The previously mentioned blue-ish color scheme gave the movie a nice hue, and there’s a nice understated feel to all of the costumes and sets that is worth another viewing just to admire. Speaking of subtle the movie also has a very delicate/restrained score to help add some flavor some scenes. You might not notice it as much as a Hans Zimmer eardrum-buster (I loved that score by the way), but any time you do recognize it you’re glad it’s there. Maybe it’s me putting words in the movie’s mouth, but there were moments it evoked the feeling of this sci-fi romance hybrid.  This hybrid is one of the film’s strongest aspects that I feel like will stand the test of time and bring people back over and over. Let’s say you’re a fan of science fiction and spend more time than you’re willing to admit on the Syfy channel on Sunday afternoon and you’re intrigued by the concept but fear it can’t live up to the potential nearly well enough? Fear no more you’ll be constantly asking questions and continuously inriqued by how this world works while at the same time questioning your own concepts of faith. Do you love romances? There’s never been a stronger force separating two lovers than the universe itself. As I said earlier the two elements are explored to their fullest potential in a devastatingly effective way that’s rare to see. Whenever Devin Norris gets the least bit of progress in his relationship you know the bureau isn’t far behind, and you’re rooting for him just to outsmart the men in fedoras. You can’t help but feel a tinge of pain in your heart when you see the two get separated time and time again because of what seems like an unstoppable freight train. I have no problem recommending “The Adjustment Bureau” to absolutely anyone. A few of my friends made a valid complaint that the movie doesn’t have as much action as they would prefer, and while I disagree, I can see how some of the ads are a little misleading in that the movie is more of a romance than anything else. Others might complain that the adjustment bureau itself is far too vague and they never full explain why they’re bothering Devin in the first place, and to that I say, “that’s kind of the point”. You don’t have to explain everything in the movie, especially when a villain’s mysterious nature is an essential part of that character. I even loved how the film even cements itself further as a classic love story by telling a story that takes place over many years. Without giving anything away, it’s not a stretch to say the film takes place over about a half-decade. This gives the viewer time to release this is a very important and very long struggle for Devin Norris and it’s his life goal to be with this woman. Sure it’s cheesy and sappy, but it’s sweet at the same time. Don’t worry guys if the romance throws you off there’s the cool way everyone dresses (or Emily Blunt) to keep your attention. The movie is exceedingly fun from start to finish on so many levels, it casts one of the most memorable and mysterious sets of villains I’ve seen in a long time, it has a beautiful color palette and score, a mind-bending story that sets itself apart and is boldly imaginative, and to top it all off there are the fantastic performances in the forefront of the film. “The Adjustment Bureau” is a bright shining light in the middle of a movie drought and I can only pray that it’s a sign of things to come in the next few cinematic months. I’ve already made plans to see it again. If you didn’t have plans on seeing the film, you need to adjust your own future to see it immediately.

5 out of 5

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