The Adjustment Bureau – better than it looks!

Posted by Rob Noble on February 27, 2011

The latest big-budget Philip K Dick adaptation, The Adjustment Bureau, opens March 4th, but I’ve seen it already and wanted to give a heads up (but not a review) to anyone who thinks they might like it.  Worried that the trailer’s a little too shallow and crappy to actually be worth your time? Exhale – It’s not that shallow or crappy. And it has a surprising reason to recommend it: It wears its influences on its sleeve, proudly and with some good humor. As they say at the Tautology Hut – If you like what they have, they’ll have what you like.

Shot on the cheap, then delayed due to low marketing funds, TAB makes excellent use of its limited cast and green screen backgrounds.  Matt Damon engenders sympathy, and John Slattery and Terrance Stamp look great as guys who might kill you for a good drink or an unfiltered cigarette. Emily Blunt’s pretty solid, too.

But again, they’re not why you should maybe check it out.  See it for the well-coordinated motions of its many moving parts. Sometimes the influences and source materials of many big sc-fi movies are too big and too obvious to ignore.  Like chunks of undercooked veggies, or cubes of too-large beef, the ingredients of would-be mind-blowers arrive in theaters still in whole parts. Set pieces look overly-familiar and costumes seem recycled?  That’s the occasional price to pay when making a non-horror sci fi film (especially one filled with allegory).  This goes back a long ways: Star Wars appropriated the scrolling credits, the Imperial lobbies and the Jedi cloaks from well-established previous films like the Sea Hawk, and Kurosawa. But there’s a real pleasure in seeing these things made well connected and an almost diorama-like love of putting pieces in their place.

A quick rundown of some common tropes used in this film: Men in mid-century suits, who look as out of time as they do out of place; “Magical” household objects, such as keys or watches, that can be used as totems; Stop-time or bullet-time effects, rendering a dynamic world as static as a 3D object modeled on an XYZ graph; Old Testament Angels, just doing their work like desk jockeys.  Every other thing onscreen seems familiar, but I really loved watching them in this configuration. Sure, bits from Wings of Desire and Piers Anthony and the Matrix and past PKD films like Minority Report and (ugh, shudder) Paycheck all make thematic cameos.  But it’s no knock on The Adjustment Bureau that these films seem to be contributing only their best parts.  You should see it when it comes out, if only for Slattery’s delivery of the line “I hate downtown.”

Previous post:

Next post: