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Adjustment Bureau needs a tweak


Matt Damon plays David Norris, an ambitious New York congressman.

By Anthony Lauriello     3/10/11 6:00pm

My high school cross-country coach once said that there was no greater insult then for someone to say, "you have great potential." It meant that you were doing something wrong, that you could be great but weren't there yet. That said, The Adjustment Bureau, directed by George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum), only had great potential despite an intriguing premise and talented actors.The movie begins with New York congressman David Norris (Matt Damon, Inside Job) meeting Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada), the girl of his dreams, on a bus and striking up one of those flirtatious and witty conversations that only occur in movies. Soon we learn that this seemingly innocuous event was not meant to happen. Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie, We Are Marshall), a member of the Adjustment Bureau, an assortment of fedora clad figures that ensure mortals follow the "plan" of the godlike chairman, was supposed to spill Norris' coffee to prevent him from getting on the bus. Mitchell attempts to fix the problem by pausing time to tweak the situation, but in another snafu, Norris remains in real time and notices this. This forces the senior member of the adjusters who is in charge of the congressman's case, Richardson (John Slattery, Iron Man 2), to explain to Norris (and the audience) the existence of the bureau. This knowledge comes with a tremendous caveat: if Norris tells anyone else he will be subject to legitimization. Furthermore, he can never see the girl. This sets the action for Norris to fight the agents of fate itself to be with the girl.

While this plot might intrigue you as much as it did me, the execution is terribly flawed. What could have been a grand and meaningful exploration into free will, higher powers, and the meaning of tragedy becomes a formulaic and goofy romantic comedy. One scene, in which Richardson watches Norris kiss Elise, employed so many cliches that it was excruciatingly painful to watch. The idea that a kiss is enough to change fate belongs in Disney princess movies, not psychological thrillers. Furthermore, the menacing and Kafka-esque nature of The Adjustment Bureau quickly gives way to a group of near angels with ridiculous magic powers that work when convenient to the plot.

While the plot fails to deliver, the film's technicalities do not disappoint. The cinematography and soundtrack of the film are what one would expect from an A-list feature, but nothing extraordinary. The acting is solid throughout, especially Damon's, who partakes in increasingly ridiculous and illogical courses of action. New York as a setting works well for the film, and the design of the ubiquitous yet menacing skyscraper headquarters is superb.

In many ways it is worse to almost be good, than to simply be bad. The Adjustment Bureau was so close at times it hurt. The film touches upon the theme that terrible things sometimes happen for greater reasons, and I can only hope the same holds true for The Adjustment Bureau.

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