Review- The Adjustment Bureau

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau (Universal)

Frequently, it is mentioned that one should disregard the marketing of a film when analyzing it. I agree with that principle, however, when there is a germane marketing point to be made I feel it is worth mentioning as an aside I will include it. The fact of the matter is all film’s have a pre-life. You hear about the concept, see the trailer or what have you. You know of a film before you see that and you decide “Oh, I want to see that” or “I might see that” and so on. When the projector starts up that’s when your preconceived notions must go away but everyone forms some opinions and at times, to our delight or chagrin, we are wrong.

The ads for The Adjustment Bureau don’t misrepresent the film at all. Why it bears mentioning is that in seeing the trailer, in conjunction with that for the forthcoming Limitless, they both seem like the kinds of concepts that are interesting but may eventually spin out of control.

The Adjustment Bureau never does that. It does deal with the concept of fate and who is the puppetmaster of our destiny and what if anything we can do about it but what it never does is get too absurd or grandiose. It manages to do this by focusing solely on our protagonist and his very simple goal: to be with the woman he loves.

Even though those pulling the strings are abstractions of higher entities and there is a bright and lofty future intended for both our protagonists we never have flash-forwards that open up a Pandora’s Box or make these characters less identifiable to the common man.

In the single-minded obsession of our protagonist a film with some heady notions stays somewhat grounded. Slowly but surely the hierarchy and what these figures do and do not understand about the plan is revealed. There are some awkward moments along the way but ultimately you find that you are allowed to “beat the system” it’s just very difficult.

Of course, the grounding of this tale would be impossible without affable and talented leads and this film has that indeed. The first mention goes to Emily Blunt. Who is one of the more electric, charismatic, talented and under-hyped young stars of the cinema today. She plays perfectly in to the refreshing no B.S. love story that is crafted for her. Adding humor, warmth and personality to it in spades.

Then there’s Matt Damon whom cuts through a lot of the red tape set up by the character and script. There is a long sequence at the beginning of the film which gives us his characters’ political past replete with many cameos by figures of the political world. We meet the image before the man and we come to know the man as the film moves along. He faces hard choices as he has stumbled upon a secret that most will not and debates how he should respond and how much he is willing to risk to get what he wants.

This is also the kind of film with effects work that is likely to get overlooked because it’s not the “Look At Me” variety but rather the functional variety wherein they only come into play to display locations that cannot possibly exist behind the doors that are opened. They are, however, very well done.

By keeping the story close to the vest suspension of disbelief becomes very easy even with some rather unbelievable things happening throughout. What is also helpful is that there is a humorous element to the story that is acknowledged and embraced by the film which raises its level somewhat from where it otherwise would’ve been.

The end of the film while not breathtaking after a rather action-filled film is proper and puts the last few questions to bed. It fits and is earned and that’s all that can be asked for in truth. The Adjustment Bureau is a fun and intelligent film of the kind there are far too few of these days.

9/10

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Review- Hereafter

Cécile De France and Matt Damon in Hereafter (Warner Bros.)

Clint Eastwood over the last decade has emerged as one of the pre-eminent American filmmakers on the cinematic landscape. Part of the reason behind his emergence is his belief in tried and true classical storytelling techniques. They are the kind of techniques that form the foundation of film and have become almost outdated due to their simplicity. This straightforward approach is avoided by most not only for aesthetic reasons but also because you have little to no margin for error when you are this direct. Some may call it ham-handed or on the head but that just indicates a personal disconnect with the material what best describes it is direct.

Why this analysis of his style is even worth mentioning is because he has now applied it to many different genres and/or styles of tale within close proximity to one another. In this tale, however, there is a little something missing from it. It’s almost as if the subject of the hereafter needs a little bit of an arcane approach to be as effective on screen as it could be.

There is, of course, also the concern of the limited omniscience that is rendered this tale. We are left examining people who are touched by death but none who actually die. We don’t follow them we follow the living, which makes it a much more mundane human drama, which can be as interesting if not more so. Of course, it ends up being a tale about life but there is no major insight or revelation offered save for some reassurance that there is something to look forward to in the big sleep.

It tells a three-pronged tale which will predictably intertwine and much like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger it could’ve used some more judicious edits to make the story it tells just a bit tighter. One example is the trip that Marie, played wonderfully by Cécile De France, takes to Switzerland. She is only there to get files from a doctor. Yet there is quite a bit of her walking about and witnessing melodramatic deathbed scenes before she meets with the doctor. In tandem with that both her scenes with her publisher run a bit long and could’ve been shortened. The eventuality of the intertwining becomes apparent at some point so the journey needs to be truncated somewhat.

The acting overall is very strong and carried the movie through its doldrums. Matt Damon in particular is quite effective especially when he is doing readings on people which he approaches tentatively.

This film is also proof that films don’t necessarily need to be replete with incident but at least information such that the story moves on. Both Marie and Marcus have their very clear inciting incidents which are huge but the rest of their respective journeys are filled with a lot less fireworks but no less interesting just a bit longer than necessary.

Eastwood in this film is tackling a bigger subject with much the same approach he has faced others except musically. If there’s one thing that sets Eastwood apart from most is that he typically also scores his own films. In this film, however, the score is never noticeable. Which is good because it doesn’t call attention to itself but it also doesn’t enhance the film greatly.

All that said this film does have its moments of surpassing quality. Particularly the ending and the much anticipated reading. It does give us wonderful visuals in the rare glimpses of the afterlife we do get and does acknowledge the enormity of its subject matter and gives you some food for thought.

6/10

Hereafter is available on home video starting today.