Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hats, romance and a weak ending: The Adjustment Bureau

The question of the power of free will and personal freedom vs. fate / prediction is the main topic of "The Adjustment bureau", a science fiction love thriller, new to the cinemas this week. To celebrate my last working week (another time), my dear yet-collegue Aurelie joined me to go watch it at "my" local cinema. Promised a lot by the trailer, we unfortunately were a bit disappointed by a movie which I could bet failed to come close to its litearal original by Phillip K. Dick.

The movie's one big main topic is the conflict between free will and fate. All of the films sub-conflicts evolve around, the most emphasized of them being "young vs. old". The main character, David Norris (Matt Damon), is a young politician on the rise, who is especially popular with young voters who adore him for his unconventionalism and identify with his wild past. One day however, he meets the dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) and falls in love with her, an event which will have severe consequences for both their lifes, because we soon learn that the two of them weren't supposed to meet more than once.

In an coincidental encounter with the agents of the mysterious Adjustment Bureau (the name is never actually mentioned in the movie though), David must learn, that his life is not the consequence of the choices he made, but has been controlled by the elderly society of "men in hats" (it's their recognition feature and source of power). Enforcing a master plan, layed out by a behind-the-curtain divine power called the "chairman" and passed down through the different stages of hirarchy, they watch over the fate of the world and intervene if necessary. The problem now is, that David and Elise together tend to deviate from their prescribed path. When David, lovestruck and independent as he is, fails to accept his prescribed fate however, his free will provokes conflict with the Adjustment Bureau and a existencial run for his love Elise's and his (self-determined) life begins.

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--- The following passage contains spoilers, so please only continue if you watched the film, didn't want to watch it anyway or are one of the rare people immune to spoilering. You have been warned ;) ---

This is exactly where the momentum of the movie shifts. While drawing much tension and interest out of its sci-fi-scenario and the great cast at the beginning, in its second half it's the typical Hollywood chase-story all over again. With the help of one of the younger agents of the Bureau, David learns to adapt their powers, crashes the wedding of Elise and intrudes into the agency, all the time followed by the hooded agents. While suceeding in invoking a fascinating sense of meaning in the beginning, from this point onwards, the action fails to be more than end in itself and when the resolution is presented eventually, the whole appeal of the movie is ruined instantly in the two minutes the main question, if there is a free will beside the master plan, is actually answered (guess what...)!!!

The movie still has his strenghts, starring a young ambitious politician as the protagonist is a genius move, which shows creative courage in the current distrustful political society. The at times self-surpassing dialogue and solid acting of the well-chosen cast lets you sympathise quickly with the characters and get involved in the drama. Especially, a great eye for detail has been employed in developing the main idea into a coherent alternative universe. There was obviously some effort invested in designing the sci-fi-aspects of the story, without by being too effectful and taking too much space from storytelling. The devices and powers the men in hats use to influence people have been affectionally realised.
Also, the the scenario is consistent and keeps the main conflict out of black / white schemes, for example the "greater good" of intervention being explained by a consistent interpretation of human history (according to this, the Bureau brought the roman empire to its heights, came back after the "Dark Ages" for rainaiscance and enlightenment, then in the 19th century vanished again, only to fail to prevent the Holocaust, after which they returned). Also, the generally religious-critic subtext favors ethics without favoring the superstructure of a certain belief ( examples for this is the shown marriage in lawcourt, no light being shed on the  gestalt / whereabouts / existance of the "chairman", the description of periods in which religious institutions possessed great power as times of divine absence...).

All in all, although I haven't read the book by Philipp K. Dick yet, nearly all the strenghts of the movie lie in the appealing basic imagination, but it struggles to translate the action consequently into the medium of film. This unfortunately makes the feature suspicious of being just another book adaption which fails to close in on the original. For me, except from the last quarter hour (hint: leave the cinema after the statue-of-liberty-scene!), it does not hurt to watch, but is definitely no must-see.

- The Adjustment Bureau - IMDB
- The Adjustment Bureau - official webpage

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