This week, a new genre mash-up will be hitting theaters in Cowboys & Aliens. Despite trying to wring something fresh out of two genres, I think it’s clear that the film will subscribe to a typical “blockbuster” framework to chug its narrative right along. No lost sleep there – the filmmakers will make their money and the film itself will probably fade into obscurity like dozens of other forgotten blockbusters.
So what does this have to do with George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau? Well, the way in which Cowboys & Aliens seems to try to mix genres together, I see The Adjustment Bureau doing the same thing. With The Adjustment Bureau, I sense that everyone involved is trying very hard to avoid clichés and narrative pitfalls. And there are times where the film admirably achieves a level of thoughtfulness, but in the end, the film is deeply flawed in its attempts to blend yearning romanticism with a half-realized science-fiction premise.
David Norris (Matt Damon) is an up-and-coming political figure whose loose-cannon antics (he bares his ass in public) unhinges a promising senate campaign. As he rehearses his concession speech in the men’s room, he realizes that a woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) is hiding in the stall. The two immediately have a connection – her candor and bluntness awakens something in Norris, wherein he opens up to the public in his speech. It’s the sort of thing where in defeat, he comes across looking like gold.
The hitch? It’s the girl. With little information to go by, it seems like she’ll be the one that got away. And according to the larger body in charge of everything, that’s exactly the way it should play out. But when members of the bureau sleep on the job, a little thing like spilt coffee changes the course of David Norris’ life.
So much of The Adjustment Bureau depends on your ability to accept the larger science-fiction framework of its universe, and quite frankly, it’s a big hurdle to get past when it is so lazily realized. At least with a film like Inception, the details are there to be tinkered with. Sure, it’s all largely spoon-fed to you through exposition, but at least there’s an attempt to flesh out the world. With The Adjustment Bureau, actors like Anthony Mackie and John Slattery sleepwalk their way through poorly written pieces of dialogue that explains what they do. And all it does is take away from what was a promising romance between Blunt and Damon. The two don’t necessarily have the best material to work with either- they move fairly quickly with little more than flirtatious exchanges being the basis of a destiny-fulfilling relationship. But they do make it work. They definitely have electricity between them, and based on that, I was able to bypass my issues with the nominal writing between them.
But the other aspects bog down the film down to such an extent that it jeopardizes the whole picture. It’s not like romanticism and science-fiction are mutually exclusive genres (see: La Jetee), but the way in which the two work together here just comes across as noncommittal. The romance is there between the leads, the science-fiction elements are falling from the sky, getting in everyone’s way.