Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (George Nolfi, 2011) -- F

The Adjustment Bureau rivals any film released in 2011 (and pretty much any year) for sheer incompetency, inert and incapable on just about every imaginable level, it's a film to distinguish those who have an eye for basic cinematic intelligence, how a film is constructed and what indicates even a passable level of artistry. Writer/Director George Nolfi (his first directorial effort) makes the wrong decision in every scene of his film, explicit and literal when he should be evasive, blunt and trite when he should instill idiosyncrasy and nuance. Less old-fashioned than hopelessly retrograde, the film begins with an hilariously emphatic montage of Senator David Norris (Matt Damon) running the campaign trail, appearing with various real life figures, even getting the insight of James Carville while Norris watches from the comfort of his living room. Nolfi is oddly obsessed with reaction shots, often showing characters "deep in thought" as the director claims on the commentary track, but essentially just lingering on close-ups (Anthony Mackie gets the most, I counted at least eight) while they stare at the floor and/or off into the distance. The dialogue comes in three varieties: expository, questions, or platitudes. Those who claimed Inception featured several characters whose sole purpose was to further expository understanding haven't seen anything yet - every character speaks merely to propel a ridiculously hokey sci-fi narrative or propagate endlessly meaningless, hollow rhetoric about free will, self-fulfillment, and true love. Moreover, the central romance between Damon and Emily Blunt (the worst performance of her short career) is meant to be passionate and sincere - but only because every character keeps repeating this, that the pair are destined to be soul mates. The film never actually shows why these two are inseparable lovers (aside from a few quick scenes of forced, playful banter, they share little time on-screen together). Everything that could be wrong is in Nolfi's horrifyingly lame adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick short story, from his misunderstanding of action sequences (he cuts to Mackie's character running down the same street an astonishing five times without anything detering his route) to the wholly bungled metaphysical discourse, to the amping up of sentimental romance, only to let any passion or gravity elude him. Here's a bad movie that instantly ascends the heights of cinema history's worst offerings, an instant classic of sorts, not offensive in its intent (Nolfi is too soft for that), but brazenly, comprehensively misguided on any conceivable artistic level.

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