Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Directed by George Nolfi.
2011. Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.
Matt Damon
Emily Blunt
Anthony Mackie
Michael Kelly
John Slattery
Terrence Stamp
Amanda Warren

Like tons of movies before it and what I’m sure will be tons more to follow, The Adjustment Bureau is about a boy chasing after the girl of his dreams. He meets her and for some reason or another she keeps getting away. This is the plot of TAB in a nutshell. Widening the scope reveals a religious debate on the free will of man vs. God’s master plan.

The boy is David Norris (Damon). At age 24, he became the youngest person ever elected to Congress. Now in his thirties, he’s working on a run for the Senate. It looks like it is going to be a successful one until an impulsive mooning incident is caught on camera. Just before he is to give his concession speech he has a chance meeting with the girl, Elise (Blunt). At least we think they meet by chance. Along with David, we soon learn that everything happens according to The Chairman’s plan. Yes, we very quickly surmise The Chairman is the name we’re using for God, even if David doesn’t.

David wasn’t supposed to learn of the plan at all, but one of the adjusters literally fell asleep on the job. This allows our hero to see other adjusters at work. Adjusters make seemingly random things happen to keep us following the plan. Of course, when they’re spotted by David they quickly get a hold of him and reluctantly fill him in on the whole plan thing and let him know two things. First, if he ever reveals the existence of the Bureau, even by accident and regardless of whether anyone believes him, his brain will be permanently wiped clean. He’ll know nothing nor be able to remember anything, an instant vegetable. Second, he’s never to see Elise ever again. That just isn’t part of the plan. Of course, this begs the question if they could completely wipe your brain or adjust your reasoning as they do to Charlie (Kelly), David’s best friend, couldn’t the adjusters simply remove his memory of them and the girl? That would certainly be more effective than hoping he does what he’s supposed to. Who am I kidding? If they did that, we’d only have about a 30 minute movie. So off he goes back into the world armed with knowledge he was never supposed to have.

As we all know, the flesh is hard to deny and our hero is determined to get the girl. Whenever he manages to get near her, the adjusters are never far behind. Throughout all this, one of them develops a soft spot for David. His name is Harry. He’s played adequately by Anthony Mackie. Harry is important both within the confines of the film as well as outside its boundaries. What he means to the story is fairly obvious. He pretty much serves as David’s guardian angel. This makes him another in Hollywood’s (and American Lit’s) long line of the archetype known as “The Magical Negro.” This is an African-American character with unnatural abilities who’s sole purpose is to aid the white protagonist. If you think I’m thoughtlessly playing the race card think about The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Matrix, The Green Mile, Bruce Almighty, Ghost, Percy Jackson & the Olympians…I could go on for a long time. It’s troubling because it is such an oft-recurring stereotype that seems harmless but reeks of subjugation. It’s also jarring in movies where that is only black character as Harry is here.

Still, I don’t deem TAB a success or failure solely based on my views of harry. He’s just one item in a very mixed bag. It’s a solid movie with an intriguing premise and fun chase scenes. It’s almost like Damon were playing Jason Bourne again, constantly on the run. The difference is David doesn’t engage in hand to hand combat and nothing blows up. It also has a spiritual aspect the Bourn movies never aspire to. This can lead t o deep, philosophical discussion, which is always good. However, it also defies its own logic for the sake of a clean ending. I have to give it credit because it ends with a brave stance if you think about what it’s saying.

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