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Massawyrm digs (and digs into) THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

Hola all. Massawyrm here.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU isn’t so much science fiction as it is theological fantasy – and if the film has one problem finding an audience, it will be this immutable fact. It belongs with a wonderful, but often ignored subset of films like CONTACT and GATTACA that despite their star power, expert direction and top notch material, fail to connect to the mainstream because they spend so much time exploring philosophical ideas that the audience is left to wonder why they aren’t being treated to all the typical clichés they were promised. Watching this I was reminded of the beautiful ending of CONTACT, when Carl Sagan’s philosophy is laid out there on the table and I walked out glowing to the sound of bitter griping, wondering aloud “Why didn’t I get to see the god damned aliens?” Occasionally a film comes along that is dedicated more to the presentation of an idea than it is following convention, and ultimately ends up ignored as a result. That, sadly, feels like the fate of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, something undeserved for something so polished.

This isn’t just a cross-dimensional chase film – it is a discussion on free will versus determinism set in a universe in which both exist. It feels more like a big budget, action packed TWILIGHT ZONE episode than it does a mainstream film – and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. It doesn’t try to establish anything resembling our reality. Instead it is an allegory for our own beliefs in both free will and destiny. It asks: what if you met the perfect girl, but getting together with her meant derailing both of your dreams forever? Making matters even more complicated is that the dreams of these characters also happen to affect the fate of us all. Would that love be worth fighting for…or against?

It’s an interesting dilemma, one that brings up a lot of questions involving chemistry, causality and our own ability to function beyond the desires we are programmed to have. But it is also one that may prove too meta for some viewers. After all, they are used to a standard romantic film consisting of BOY MEETS GIRL, BOY LOSES GIRL, BOY GETS GIRL BACK – but when the characters are ushered behind the curtain and we see the actual events keeping them apart represented by somewhat divine beings, it ceases to be about the events themselves and becomes an us against them fight that isn’t really much of a fight.

Of course, that’s exactly why I dig the shit out of this movie. It’s an engrossing take on a rich and complicated philosophical quandary. If there is a divine plan, how much of what we do is really us and how much is someone else pulling the strings? And if someone need only manipulate a single event to produce a predictable result, are we really beings possessed of free will at all? THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU wants you walking out thinking about that.

Sadly it has one flaw, a story problem that crops up with the explanation of why these two are so inexplicably drawn to one another – despite the plan having other ideas for them. This will cause some members of the audience to ask a question the movie has no answer for – one that doesn’t ruin the movie but provides an alternate path that you suspect would cause a number of adjusters to smack their forehead for their total lack of imagination. The film does set up that adjusters aren’t known for their ability to improvise, but they are shown to reason in a way that the question asked would have a very real answer. And it is just one of those stupid lingering questions that knocks an otherwise great movie down a peg.

Invisotext for after viewing: If the two were destined in the original plan to be together and Damon is so dead set against a determined fate, why wouldn’t they just tell him the reason he feels so strong a bond was because he was programmed to for the sake of an old – but now revised – plan? The nature of this revelation actually causes us to ask how much of their emotion is genuine and casts fundamental aspersions on its authenticity.

The acting here is superb – exactly what you’d expect from its Oscar caliber cast – and George Nolfi’s script and direction are slick, lean and convey some pretty big ideas in very digestible ways. The film is pretty solid on all fronts, never becoming as ridiculous as an idea this out there could have become; it’s kept cool, intriguing and never lingers too long on any one thing. The film’s one execution problem is a small bit of unnecessary monologue at the end, which feels like it was more for the sake of the heartland than it is the folks most likely to embrace the film; it doesn’t ruin anything, but it does slightly devalue the ending and the mood Nolfi has worked to create.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is a really good film. Satisfying, fast moving and the type of film you want to discuss over a cup of coffee afterward. This comes RECOMMENDED.

Until next time friends, Massawyrm

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