14 March 2011

Anxiety and The Adjustment Bureau

I attacked Inception because the dreams that comprise the film were directed by Michael Bay, not by you or me. I laughed again at Hollywood's inability to capture nightmares. So I was shocked into real anxiety by how closely the events in George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau match the twists of my own recurring dreams.

Without getting too far into the film's deeply silly plot, suffice to say: senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon, still running all over the place but in less comfortable shoes than he wears in the Bourne franchise) wants to be with Elise (Emily Blunt) but is thwarted at every turn by fedora'd "angels" (for lack of a better word) who insist that she is not part of his preordained life plan.

In The Adjustment Bureau and my dream, you're trying to find someone. You're late. You're lost. You start running. Dangerous obstacles get in your way (cars crash violently on a street you're about to cross, the floor falls away and there's a vertiginous drop right in front of you). You go through doors, find you're in the wrong place, go back out the door and find yourself in a third location, also wrong. You're panting, frantic, hopeless. Naturally, things work out better for David in the film than for me in my dream, perhaps because my sense of direction is so bad (and I'm never wearing a magical hat that gives me superpowers).

David eventually gets a little help from the angels, and this is the rub with The Adjustment Bureau. He learns, for instance, that the angels can't read his thoughts when it's rainy (David Denby joked that the protagonists should have just moved to Seattle (the joke is especially apt now, in March, the wrist-slittingest month of all, weather-wise)). Anthony Mackie (as Harry) and John Slattery (as Richardson) give cool enough performances but their constant presence necessitates too many laughable lines of shouted, angel-related dialogue: "You've hit your ripple limit!" or "Anyone in a hat is a threat!" Plus the library where all the angels hang out is not as architecturally appealing as the one in Wings of Desire. The angelic exception is Thompson, played Terence Stamp (check his A-MA-ZING scarf with complementary patterns on either side) who flexes real power and menace.

I know that for big studio producers Philip K. Dick stories=good movies but I would have moved this film in a different direction (and, from what I've read, the Dick story "Adjustment Team" differs substantially  from the movie version). The narrative tension suffers because we know in the first 15 minutes that David is fighting against a huge conspiracy and will do so for the rest of the film. I would have allowed room for the idea that the angels are just part of David's paranoid personality, part of the larger understanding many people have that our whole lives are being controlled by a shadowy god and/or government.

I'd also like to see Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star in another film, perhaps one in which they aren't being harassed by malevolent angels the whole time. There's too many Damon and dude conversations and not enough Damon and Blunt--unlike 95% of Hollywood films this millennium, these two romantic leads actually seem like they want to have sex with each other. And that's why The Adjustment Bureau is worthy of netflixing.

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