In the world of modern cinema the trailer has become an art form in its own right. A well done trailer gives just enough info to excite a perspective audience, and mobilize them away from HD TV, Netflix OnDemand, Bluray, IPTV, or any of the myriad of choices available to consumers today. A trailer if done wrong can instill the wrong idea about a film into the minds of viewers, completely changing the viewing experience. This is the case with George Nolfi’s new “Sci-Fi” film, “The Adjustment Bureau.” All of the advertising pointed toward a science fiction chase movie with a romance backbone, not the reverse. In fact the film is much more geared toward the romance angle, straddling the two genres, but short changing both.
In the beginning we are introduced to Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) who has had a meteoric rise to become the frontrunner in a New York Senatorial race. When his campaign is derailed by some past mistakes election night finds Norris in the men’s room of the Waldorf-Astoria sadly practicing his concession speech. To his surprise hiding in a stall is Elise (Emily Blunt), embarrassed by intruding into such a private moment. Immediately there are fireworks between the two, and they jump into a passionate embrace, only to be interrupted by David’s campaign manager, Charlie (Michael Kelly). This is the first sign that the film is closer to “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” than “Total Recall”.
As David’s campaign comes to a close we catch a glimpse of four suited men, all sporting fedoras, ominously looking down on the Waldorf from a nearby roof. These are the overseers, “Case Workers” of the titular bureau, including Richardson (John Slattery) and Henry (Anthony Mackie). Their mysterious motivations keep the first act of the film rolling at a tight clip as, three months later Henry is supposed to make David spill his coffee on his first day going to work, but falters in his duties. As a result David meets Elise on the bus continuing their romantic tet-a-tet.
Damon and Blunt do have chemistry to be sure, and their flirtatious scenes are fun to watch. It is a cinematic courtship done right, the guys will love Elise just as much as the women will love David. Snarky, up front and in his face Elise immediately sees through the façade David has built up as a successful politician. He’s an obvious catch; self-conscious but confident, there is little reason why the two wouldn’t end up together.
When David gets to work, however, he stumbles upon the Bureau’s agents literally changing Charlie’s mind, as all of the workers at the office stand as though they were exhibits at Madame Tussaud’s. For the most part, this is the only plot point Nolfi’s script takes from the Phillip K. Dick short story, “The Adjustment Team,” upon which it was based. David has seen “Behind a curtain he shouldn’t even know existed,” says Richardson as he tries to convince the Congressman that he cannot tell anyone what he’s seen.
Unfortunately Richardson lets David in on the Bureau’s motivation, and it takes some of the steam out of the film. Understandably their motivation is central to the themes of the film, that love will prevail over all obstacles, but without the mystery the scales start to tip far into the romance territory, letting the melodrama pile up.
Though it is a kind of funny idea that this politician cannot really get anything done in his life because of some shady bureaucrats keep blocking his every move. Conceptually the Bureau is a pretty interesting idea, but as the film veers onto the romance trajectory, there is little exploration of the agency. What tidbits Nolfi chooses to include are fun – traveling through Manhattan using all kinds of regular doors as portals for example – but some are a little too dramatically convenient. The Agents cannot predict a person’s intentions anywhere near water for some reason, and the portals only work when they are wearing special fedoras. It goes to explain why they all look like extras from “Mad Men,” but comes off as… well corny would be the term.
The biggest misstep in the film is the overbearing score by Thomas Newman. The rolling guitars that open the film and the swooping orchestral swells during the “epic” moments are much too manipulative and in your face to be effective, and stand out in some places so much that they take over the film, not letting the images speak for themselves. Had Nolfi opted for something a little more somber, interesting, or even tense the overall tone of the film could have been elevated, but as it is the score drags the film down into something one could only refer to as pedestrian.
To his credit Nolfi keeps the film afloat most of the time with good performances from the two leads, however the supporting cast of Slattery, Mackie, and Terrance Stamp as Thompson, a bureau heavy hitter and the only thing that could be called a villain in the picture, do not have much to do. Slattery tries to make Richardson a fun obstacle on David’s journey, but his Richardson hues too close to Roger Sterling, the character he plays to perfection on “Mad Men,” to be original, though not close enough to be as gleefully smarmy as that character.
When all is said and done, “The Adjustment Bureau” is not boring but not so exciting, romantic but not super romantic, science fiction-y but not too science fiction-y. Other than the two leads it is a film of no superlatives, skating through as though it does not really have to try that hard. To be non-committal is the perfect trait for a politician like David Norris, but for a film it is a much harder sell.
El Luchador Rating:
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)