Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Elegant, Refined, and Enjoyable: A Review of The Adjustment Bureau

Over Thanksgiving, the internet connection at my parents' house was painfully slow, and so instead of watching streaming movies like we otherwise might have, we took several walks to the nearest Walgreens to take advantage of the Red Box movie rentals there.  It was a good exercise in compromise and negotiation ("I'll watch Inception again if you'll watch Thor"; "There's no way I'm watching anything with Tom Cruise in it"; "You just like that movie because J.J. Abrams did Alias"; etc.), and it gave me the chance to catch up on some of the newer scifi/fantasy movies that I missed in the theaters.

One of these movies was The Adjustment Bureau, a 2011 film starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt that is loosely based on Philip K. Dick's short story "The Adjustment Team."  It tells the story of a young politician named David Norris (Damon) whose star is rising; when he meets and falls in love with a young woman named Elise (Blunt), he finds himself caught up in a world where mysterious men seem determined to manipulate the course of his life.

As with most Matt Damon movies, The Adjustment Bureau is very well done.  I really enjoyed the cinematography--there are several shots of Damon standing alone in large rooms, with the camera zoomed way out, that are very effective at visually representing the loneliness he is feeling.  The overall aesthetic of the film is enjoyable as well--it looks very polished and refined, which is reinforced by the importance of men's hats throughout the film.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the movie is Blunt and Damon's chemistry.  I actually believed that the two of them were in love, and it was the kind of love that made me happy to watch.  They both managed to deliver some lines that should have been extremely corny, but ended up sounding sincere, heartfelt, and real.

I keep using the word enjoyable to describe the film, and that's partly because I need a thesaurus, but partly because I want to keep emphasizing that this is a well-done movie that is easy to watch--but not much more.  In order for this movie to be spectacular, it would have had to knock the ending out of the park, and it didn't.  If you don't want to read about the ending, you should stop here, but you should know that it's definitely worth seeing for yourself.

Ok.  The ending.

My biggest concern with the ending is that the whole movie pushes David to consider these huge, existential questions: Would his life be better if he were president, or if he were with the love of his life?  Would he be more fulfilled if he picked one over the other?  Could he be truly happy if he walks away from Elise?  I was thrilled that the movie was asking these questions--I was excited by the possibility of a movie that acknowledged that choosing one thing meant that you were not choosing something else.

But then you get to the end, and David and Elise choose love--and there is no discussion of what they gave up to choose love.  No discussion that by choosing to be with Elise, David gives up being president.  No discussion that Elise will not have her fantastic dance career.  No discussion of how one or the other will most likely end up resenting the other one for getting in the way of being a star.  Yes, I realize this is a Hollywood film and it requires a "happily-ever-after," but if you're going to raise questions like this in a movie, you need to at least make an attempt at answering them.  The Adjustment Bureau just sweeps them under the rug.

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