Yesterday I got dolled up and went to the picture show!
Well, strike that. I actually rolled into the movie theatre in Manchester, CT, still sweaty from my morning workout. I also snuck an iced coffee into the theater. Sorry, Rave Cinema. I understand you need to make your coffee more expensive. So you must understand my need to sneak in a venti decaf Americano in my purse. Yes, I hid a giant iced coffee in my purse.
I went to see the aforementioned film, The Adjustment Bureau, not only because I have a thing for Matt Damon (which I do and have one even more so after seeing the film) but also in the hopes that it would be as thought provoking as Inception. It was, but in a totally different way.
David Norris is a politician of the people. He’s got youth and good looks, he’s running against a professed ‘tool’, he’s all about the grassroots, a passionate community organizer, charisma out the yingyang. Unfortunately, thanks to some party boy antics in his younger days, he loses his first major election. He accidentally runs into contemporary ballet dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) while prepping his concession speech. They spark an instant connection. He ends up seeing her again a few months later and she gives him her phone number, but after witnessing a strange event in his office he is visited by The Adjustment Bureau-whose job is to make sure your life goes according ‘to the plan’. The head of his team of Adjusters, played by John Slattery, warns him that if he doesn’t stick to his set plan and forget about Elise, he have his memory wiped away, or ‘reset’. “Your family will think you’ve gone crazy. You won’t think anything at all.” But love finds a way, as it always does.
The rest of the movie propels forward the way you would think it does; David returns strong to politics, and Elise skyrockets in the dance world. But all they can think about is each other. The Bureau tries to keep them apart because they are on different ‘life paths’ but one Adjuster (Anthony Mackie) has a change of heart and attempts to help David after seeing his dogged determination to see Elise again.
This movie’s romance is what makes it special. From the moment they meet, you completely buy the romance between David and Elise and root for them to be together. Their first meeting in a men’s bathroom (a scene less convoluted than it sounds) ricochets with chemistry, and Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are totally credible as two strangers who meet and fall in love at first sight. It’s not a white-hot heat that generates between them, but more of a slow burn which grows as the film progresses. Elise, as a passionate, eccentric and ballsy dancer, represents boundless freedom from the stagnant life David has recently found himself in, and David represents safety and comfort to Elise. There’s a moment where one member of the Bureau says “If he sees her dance, it’s over.” Contemporary dance is one of the ultimate forms of pure freedom of movement in the arts. When David spies Elise practicing her solo, he can’t help but be entranced. Neither can we.
This is a great piece for Matt Damon, who is perennially underrated. What’s not to like about him? He won a screenplay Academy Award for a film he was also up for Best Actor in, and he’s only gotten better since. His appearance on Inside The Actor’s Studio is one of my favorites, considering he said the best piece of advice he ever got about acting was from the Farrelly Brothers (“Suck less”). He’s proven he can be in intellectual fare such as The Rainmaker, funny films like Stuck On You, Oscar bait like Invictus, and also high octane action thrillers. This is Jason Bourne, after all. Here, he plays a very good guy, perhaps a great guy, who’s thrown into a situation he can’t understand and can’t follow. It’s not an ‘aw shucks’ role (David has a lot of strength and agency, despite the movie’s attempts to tell us otherwise) and he will stop at nothing to get Elise back. He’s also able to display some humor…unlike Inception, David is completely aware of the insanity going on around him and he uses a ‘WTF’ face to great effect throughout the film.
As for Emily Blunt…I wish she were a bigger star than she is. Although now that she’s Mrs. John Krasinski her stock will go up, but hopefully people will go see this movie based on her acting abilities, which are very big. The last time I saw her in a contemporary piece it was back when she was in The Devil Wears Prada, and she stole the movie right out from under Anne Hathaway’s Blahniks. In this film, she soars. From her first entrance, you immediately know this chick is a dancer. Natalie Portman gave a phenomenal performance in Black Swan but Emily Blunt’s version of things is more realistic and with less paranoia or desire to be ‘perfect’ (and, honestly, much less lesbian sex and stabbing). She had wonderful lines, great technique, and pure emotion. One scene which nearly made me stand up and cheer was a moment where Elise, on the brink of a major decision, goes to her dance studio in warmup clothes. The front desk asks why she’s there. She shrugs and says “I just needed to be on the floor.” That feeling of finding peace in art is something any artist can relate to.
The members of the Bureau themselves are all good, but they aren’t given a whole heck of a lot to do other than run around and look menacing in fedoras. Sometimes John Slattery’s role merely requires him to stand still, look at David and Elise together in the middle distance, and mumble “Son of a bitch” or “That bastard!” Which was hilarious, but it lacked character development. The standout of the team is Anthony Mackie, whose performance as an Adjuster with a conscience is quiet, reserved, and well-calibrated. The film also gets a big boost with the introduction of Terrence Stamp into the proceedings as the Bureau’s most dangerous worker. He doesn’t look like it, but you quickly find out why his nickname is “The Hammer.”
If I had any problems with the film it would be the ending, which lacks direction and feels very rushed. It’s as if the editors realized they only had ten minutes to wrap up the storyline so they introduced a deux ex machina to get the plot squared away. It’s an excuse for Matt Damon and Emily Blunt to run around New York City and throw open as many doors as he can. This is where the special effects department really outdid themselves. The Bureau travel through doorways and shortcuts (the secret to their success is hilarious but you kind of buy that as the movie goes along) and once David is taught the secrets, he utilizes them to full effect.
All in all, however, the romance is what sold me. The question of defying your fate was an interesting one, and one I did ponder over on the drive home.
I must confess, though, that the entire movie, I may have been thinking about this.