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The Adjustment Bureau

a film by George Nolfi

Sometimes bad things happen to good movies. Sometimes you are sitting there watching a movie - and perhaps it is not a great movie but still a movie you are enjoying nonetheless - the thinking man's action stud Matt Damon, fedora'd and cocksure, with the lithesome Emily Blunt in fawning tow, running away from their fate as if it were trying to kill them (and I suppose in a way it may be doing just that), and suddenly, without any warning whatsoever (other than the warning someone who has seen as many movies become final act train wrecks as this critic has, should have seen coming the proverbial mile away), whammo - an ending that just about ruins everything that has come before it. This is exactly the experience this critic had while watching - and, as I said, quite enjoying - The Adjustment Bureau. Whammo indeed.

Now as I also said, the movie in question is not a great thing by any stretch of the imagination, and one could easily sum its storyline up by saying something as cheap and quippy as "Jason Bourne enters The Matrix by way of Inception, with Made in Heaven tossed in for good measure" (which I just did and of which I am somewhat unabashedly proud), but it is still more than capably designed, its intriguing interweavings keeping the action going as it were (though, like in the aforementioned Inception, things are a little too well explained, taking away a lot of the supposedly intended mystery), and it is more than capably acted by star Damon in a role that granted, he should be able to play in his freakin' sleep by now; but even a movie of this caliber (let's call it high-middling entertainment, or as my esteemed critical compatriot Glenn Kenny quipped, "a kind of silly but at least somewhat entertaining piece of metaphysical burlesque," adding "until the point it cracks like an egg and goes all sappy") should not have to endure the fate of such a ridiculously saccharine ending as the fates have thrust upon this one in particular (a complaint incidentally, that actually fits in with the premise of the film rather nicely).

But enough of bad endings, let's go back to the beginning, where we were having a much better time. Directed by first-time director George Nolfi (he wrote the screenplays for both Ocean's 12 and The Bourne Ultimatum - the lesser films of their respective franchises) and based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (the man whose writings have led to such films as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report - three of the better sci-fi movies of the last thirty years) The Adjustment Bureau, which also stars Anthony Mackie, Mad Men's John Slattery and the always excellent, and always chilling Terence Stamp as agents (of varying dispositions) of the titular bureau, is a fun film to watch play out its mind games (even if they are a bit too choreographed) and should be considered one of the better works of its sub-genre if only it had been directed with a bit more finesse and stylistic attitude (ie. Chris Nolan's work on the now thrice mentioned Inception - even with its own myriad of flaws). Still, it is kinda fun to watch Matt Damon running around in a grey fedora, opening up doors in Brooklyn and ending up on the field of Yankee Stadium.

But then there is that ending. It keeps coming back to that (as I suppose it should since it is after all, the ending). I have not read the Dick short story upon which the movie is based, but if I were to hazard a guess, especially considering other works by the author, I would say the original does not have the cheaply manufactured, overly-sentimental, Chicken-Soup-For-The-Soul ending that Nolfi's cinematic adaptation does, or if it does have a similar ending, it is not rendered in such a way as to make one unable to get the saccharine aftertaste out of their mouth. It is a shame really, because, as I have said over and over throughout this review, I rather enjoyed this movie - flaws and all - until that fateful, unrepentant (and quite cheap and pandering) final five minutes. Imagine that, just five minutes to ruin an otherwise one hundred enjoyable minutes worth of movie watching. Bad things can surely happen to good movies - this one is the living proof. [03/04/11]

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