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David Poland

By David Poland

Not Really A Review Of The Adjustment Bureau

I don’t understand.

I read review after review of The Adjustment Bureau and I see very similar issues with the film that I have.

And then, somehow, it twists into being pretty positive about the same misjudgments that derail the movie or in some psychotic break, outright raves.

This is not a movie that is so ambitious that it somehow gets an Auto-Pass by critics desperate for anything that isn’t the same old cookie cutter. This movie could not be more The Same Old Cookie Cutter™.

Have we somehow set the bar so low that walking through a door into another location is reason to cheer? Do hackneyed “we work for Him” cliches that are almost as old as the late 50’s suits being worn some how cheer us up now while we float on clouds of dreaming about fucking Don Draper or alternatively, one of his many conquests? Could the great Terrence Stamp seem any more like a head in a jar?

There is one thing to LOVE in The Adjustment Bureau. Emily Blunt gives a performance that, for the first time in her career (as far as I’ve seen it) is Emily being Emily… charming, goofy, off-rhythm, can’t miss IT girl. But like I say… that’s pretty much her. Matt Damon, who is good here, is acting and does fine.

But 24 minutes of The Adjustment Bureau is enough. Rinse, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat to get to a movie length running time.

Rod Serling could have showed up after the first round, as they run into the next round and said, “Love is a powerful thing. Some say, it is their deity. Some deities object. But the battle goes on and on… in The Twilight Zone” and I would have been happy to go home.

And as I noted in a Twitter fight, after all the incessant whining about The King’s Speech not being worthy, how does this just-okay entertainment – even at it’s best, it’s Dick doing Nicholas Sparks as a Matrix spin-off series for FX – get a pass?

George Nolfi may be a good director some day. But this premise and the accouterments seemed to be doing all the directing him this time out.

There is not a single original idea in the movie. And it isn’t within a million miles of being as smart about using those cliches as Rango. Yet, it seems like many of those who keep braying about originality in the movies are somehow under its influence. This is exactly the kind of movie that discerning film lovers shouldn’t want the studios to make… mid-range everything, except the two leads. Derivative. Unchallenged. A Lost episode that is pregnant and doesn’t know if the father is a Law & Order episode or a Private Practices episode. Oy.

ADD, 12:56p – I just read a Cinematical review of the film that, perhaps, explains why critics are excusing the mess. So confused by the marketing was this gentleman, that he disregarded the sci-fi, confused mess and just focused on the part he didn’t see coming… the love story. And like everyone else, Damon and Blunt are such attractive romantic partners (on screen and in personal fantasies) that combined with this being unexpected, all was forgiven. I guess that’s what leads to a craxy turn of phrase like, “a movie so defiant of the Hollywood norms we’re used to,” while the movie really couldn’t be more predictably Hollywood.

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41 Responses to “Not Really A Review Of The Adjustment Bureau”

  1. chris says:

    Not sure I get that comparison. The deal with “King’s Speech” is that some people were saying that its dull professionalism was the best movie of the year. I doubt if anyone will be saying that about “Adjustment Bureau.”

  2. Paul MD (Stella's Boy) says:

    Is this a case of people really, really wanting to like a movie, so they are easier on it than they should be? That’s how I feel about The Town. Seems to happen every once in a while.

  3. David Poland says:

    But that’s all Adjustment is… by the numbers, nicely shot fodder.

    I like TKS a lot more than that, but if that’s your argument about TKS, how does TAB rise above that?

    Every year, there are 2 or 3 movies that get raved in the midst of what would normally be the review content of pans. Every positive review of this film I have read is loaded down with qualifiers that suggest confusion, if not insincerity.

  4. Proman says:

    I don’t like being negative, but ever since I saw the trailer for this film (and it ran literally for months) I thought I was looking it one of the most derivative, cliche, generic looking films I’ve seen. That, and directorial work seemed completely obvious and amateurish (granted, I now know it’s a work of a first time director so I’ll give him a pass though the point still stands).

    Honestly, I thought this was going to get very poor reviews. But then I have not seen the film and don’t want to see it.

  5. Proman says:

    Poland, you are making a point about critics whining about 96% fresh tomatometer movie? Grow up and stop pretending like if Adjustment Bureau was suddently winning best picture, even those who gave it “raves” would not have turned on it.

    Apples and Oranges.

    Now if you were making a different point, say how critics should not turn on films they once supposedly loved – just because they stopped being underdogs or did better then expected (and how maybe they should think a little more before writing those reviews) – THEN I’d be on board with you.

  6. Proman says:

    Off-topic but this really gets on my nerves:

    “You get Mandy Moore singing shmaltz about Rapunzel,”

    What, the flock was she supposed sing about in a movie called ‘Tangled’? The song is not even that shmaltz.

    “lousy love theme from a cartoon”.

    That “from a cartoon” part really removes any doubt the guy is a tool.

  7. Eldrick says:

    its not even like this film is getting raves. its in the 61% range on rottentomatoes.

  8. LexG says:

    Emily Blunt shows her feet twice in the trailer alone.

    In other words: YEP YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. I’d wanna see it just to figure out why the hell she’s walking around a hotel lobby fully dressed and soaking wet but barefoot.

  9. leahnz says:

    i’m going to see this later tonight, but when the boy and i saw the trailer for ‘adjustment bureau’ before ‘true grit’, he turned to me and said, “kinda looks like ‘dark city'” and i knew then i was doing something right. i’m firmly on ‘team boy’ after that.

  10. storymark says:

    So, not thinking the King’s Speech was the best pic of the year means one can’t enjoy this (which no one is calling a best pic contender anyway)? Whaaaaa?

  11. chris says:

    TAB doesn’t rise above TKS. TKS is a better movie, by most measures, I would think. But my point is that nobody is making the claims for TAB that have been made for TKS.

  12. Haven’t seen the film, but I think a lot of the critics seem to be going gaga over the fact that there isn’t a lot of CGI and it seems to be more of a character thriller than a slam-bang action fest. As you do about Adjustment Bureau, I felt the same way about The Town. Sometimes critics so believe the whole ‘Hollywood makes nothing but CGI fantasy films!’ over-exaggeration that they fall over themselves at something that merely resembles old-school melodrama, even if its bad melodrama.

  13. movieman says:

    There is something almost radical about Hollywood making a genuine love story (hold the irony) in this cynical day and age, and that’s precisely what “TAB” is. Like many of my critical brethren (and “sistren”?) I went in expecting a “Matrix”/”Inception” riff–done on a budget–and the fluctuating release dates certainly did nothing to bolster my enthusiasm or confidence. But the damn thing won me over when I realized that it was just an old-fashioned storybook romance in 21st century genre clothing. Don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a bona-fide sleeper (don’t see many of those anymore, do we?). My (paying) audience ate it up, and there was even scattered applause at the end.

  14. Hopscotch says:

    I saw it Weds night, and completely agree with the assessment that it’s a long Twilight Zone episode. There isn’t anything particularly “original” in that sense. The film has this line of dialogue:

    “Three years later and I’m still cleaning up your mess.”

    But for some reason I did enjoy it. The music and the cinematography and the quick pace helped. Along with the charm of Ms. Blunt. The opening three minutes is essentially a “Campaign Montage” filled with cameo after cameo, I did enjoy that.

  15. LexG says:

    “Three years later and I’m still cleaning up your mess.”

    Uh, oh! Sounds like a “left-wing sucker punch!” Nah, I kid because I do lurk at Big Hollywood and like those guys (if respectfully disagreeing on many things); But somehow Matt Damon is basically the Howard Zinn meets Bill Ayers of Hollywood actors to that Nicol D crowd. I think even PENN gets a fairer shake amongst right-wing film writers, so if there’s potshots at Bush in this thing, you BEST BELIEVE it’ll inspire a screed or two, plus be the absolute reason they’ll be pouncing come Monday when RANGO handily beats TAB.

  16. David Poland says:

    Storymark… it’s not about thinking one movie isn’t the best of the year and the other being likable.

    It’s about taking a movie that is solid, if not sensational, and trying to kill it and its legacy, then a few hours later, stepping up to excuse the deep flaws of the next drama that turns up.

    I am fine with, “It’s imperfect, but I really liked it anyway because…” But from some of the smartest critics out there, we’re getting pretty generous words with all kinds of claims about how original this thing is when it’s as derivative a movie as could be made.

    The argument has been that embracing The King’s Speech is what’s wrong with the business. But Adjustment surely is not a game changer in any way. Meanwhile, there is a game changer in Rango… same weekend… but “meh”

    Just head spinning.

  17. LexG says:

    What about BEASTLY Poland?!


  18. cadavra says:

    A movie whose title is its own review!


  19. anghus says:

    i thought it was pretty bad. corny, poorly executed. all the energy came from Blunt and Damon. I wish they had been in a better movie.

    the main problem was there wasnt anything at stake. it’s no-thrill thriller with a tepid ‘worst case scenario’.

    packed theater at the 4pm show. older crowd, too. lots of people in their 50’s.

  20. Eddie Mars Attacks says:

    I think critics liked THE TOWN more than they should have because of its glamorization of the white working class. Douchebag critics want to identify with the “people” so they laud some serious mediocre crap, i.e. WINTER’S BONE. Just because a film features white working class characters, it gets love. Make THE TOWN with a black cast and it would be called out for the shit melodrama it is.

  21. IOv3 says:

    High five to MM. It’s a LOVE STORY. Seriously David, it’s a love story with a 21st century premise as MM stated. Why you are getting this much ageda out of PEOPLE NOT AGREEING WITH YOUR TAKE ON A MOVIE… cough, is beyond me, but TAB is not for cynics. It’s not made for 21st century people who are too cool for school and have a jaded view of everything. Sort of like stating there’s is nothing at stake, WHEN THEM NOT BEING TOGETHER IS WHAT’S AT STAKE!

    What happened to the romanticism in people?

  22. anghus says:

    i think i could make a convincing argument that The Adjustment Bureau fails as a romance. It would require spoilers….

  23. Krillian says:

    Sounds like it all boils down to if it’s smart about how it’s derivative.

  24. anghus says:

    It’s not that smart, either. Again, can’t really delve into it without hitting spoilers. I’ll just say this, in movies like Inception there is an effort made to try and explain the rules.

    The Adjustment Bureau does not ever clearly explain the rules but when it tries the rules make little sense.

  25. IOv3 says:

    They explain the rules. There’s a whole montage about the rules. It’s also a movie about defying the rules established for you. Again, it’s like we saw two different movies.

  26. Geoff says:

    It’s funny – a few months back, Dave was saying how the influence of Inception would be minimal. And yet….

    In the space of one month, we have two movies (TAB, Source Code – have you seen the outdoor, wow!) completley trying to emulate Inception with their marketing campaigns.

    Never fails….

  27. IOv3 says:

    Geoff, that’s a very good point, and I simply have no idea why this movie would piss David off so much. Yeah it’s his site and all, but he calls out me and other folks all the damn time about for picking one movie and pitting it against another, and that’s what he’s doing. He likes Rango much more and TAB gets a punch in the face because of it? Come on, it’s a sweet little love story, what’s so fucking wrong with that?

  28. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Two things:

    (a) Both Adjustment Bureau and Source Code wrapped before Inception was released. There may be tweaking in the marketing, but their course was set before Inception became a smash – they’re not explicitly emulating Inception.

    (b) DP was talking about Inception’s business model, rather than creative. The more expensive of the two (Adjustment Bureau at ~$50million) isn’t even 1/3 of Inception’s budget.

  29. leahnz says:

    i rather liked ‘bureau’, certainly a romance at heart with some genuine heat and urgency between damon and blunt, actual grown-ups! a review i read beforehand mentioned frank capra (can’t remember which right now) — if i wrote those silly blurbs on the one-sheets i’d dub it “Dark City by way of Frank Capra channelling Rod Serling, with inexplicably small-brimmed fedoras’. (my boy got the ‘dark city’ part spot-on, tip of the inexplicably small-rimmed fedora to him. but perhaps it’s just as well i’m not in charge of marketing anything. which is ok by me, because marketing is the devil)

    fwiw i didn’t notice anything particularly ‘inception’-esque in the marketing of ‘bureau’ here, but our marketing might be completely unlike what’s been done there

  30. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Isn’t a small-rimmed fedora a “trilby”?

  31. leahnz says:

    oh, i don’t know, could well be. i’m a hat MORON

  32. anghus says:

    IO, they didn’t explain all the rules.






    The water thing immediately springs to mind. It’s mentioned that it causes complications, but it makes no sense. The rules they throw out are arbitrary and nonsensical.

    Terrance Stamp’s character killed the movie for me. When he shows up at the dance recital he says something like “She could be one of the world’s premiere choreographers, but if she ends up with you she’ll teach dance to six year olds”

    Seriously? That’s it? Is that really an epic tragedy?

    There’s no weight here. It’s not life or death. The consequences are irrelevant. If he chooses her, they both end up happy but ordinary? THE HORROR!

  33. movieman says:

    The funny thing is that while watching “TAB” I kept picking it apart–small (or large) details that didn’t add up; nagging gaps in logic; etc.–but when I finally realized that it was a love story and not “Inception 2.0,” I happily, even blissfully, surrendered to its (considerable) charms. I can’t remember the last movie that left me feeling so unreasonably happy.

  34. IOv3 says:

    Yes I have seen this film and right now, I am discussing it. SKIP IT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW ANYTHING!

    Anghus, it’s life and death for the characters because they want one another and have wanted one another going on 4 decades. They are willing to be MIND-WIPED for their love, and that again is life and death.

    You are also not putting weight on what the events mean to the characters in this movie. Elise wants to dance, she’s revolutionary at it, and being with David for that 11 months would have changed… DANCE! Not your thing, but that entire movie has a thing with the plan and potential and it would seem that Elise had to fulfill her potential before getting with David.

    You also want more explanation than the characters themselves can provide. Harry only knows how water effects them. That’s his experience and he’s sharing it with David. You also have to remember that the angels or whatever are, only middle management and do as they are told. Expecting them to know the reasoning behind everything GOD wants them to do is missing the point.

    ETA: If you look at the IMDB page for TAB. It’s listed as: Romance | Thriller and that says it all.

  35. thespirithunter says:

    Saw the movie last night. Big Twilight Zone fan here and appreciated the attempt. But both anghus and IO have a lot of weight in their arguments.


    The rules were far-fetched, but so was the Force in Star Wars, the loony mind-sharing in Close Encounters (everyone was drawing the same shape or symbol), the dream-within-a-dream mechanics of Inception. Doesn’t make those films any less stellar in my book. Go with the flow. So the hats are magical, so what? That’s the rules of this universe.

    That being said, this film would probably have been better with a little more at stake than just not being together. Why didn’t the writer have Stamp explain, “if she stays with you, she dies in three weeks”. Now you have an interesting conundrum, and a really good reason why Damon would leave her in the hospital like that.

    Consider the point, if Damon is trying to change their future, then how would Stamp’s statement of her teaching six year olds how to dance have any weight? If Damon can change the plan, why can’t the plan change down the line with the ripples. This means, Stamp couldn’t be able to see her future, and it wouldn’t have mattered. But with a character’s life or death hanging in the balance…that is scary enough to consider leaving your love alone for the rest of her life. Missed opportunity in my book

    I did enjoy it. The leads were strongly acted, great chemistry. You don’t see it any more these days in my opinion. Good start for Nolfi. Great debates from the readers of MCN.

    More, please.

  36. anghus says:


    Spirit, yes, i agree. I think i could have justified the movie if there was real consequence to their pairing.

    Stamp talking about how ordinary their lives would be really wasn’t enough.

    There’s a movie that springs to mind. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind springs to mind. The stakes there aren’t gigantic either. She’s being erased from his memory. But fuck all if it didn’t FEEL like the end of the world for Jim Carey’s character. There is never that level of emotion at play here. The two characters barely know each other and it’s all attributed to a feeling that they’re supposed to be together. I needed more than that.

    The film seems more concerned with the high concept stuff than the core relationship which the movie revolves around. That’s a problem with execution.

    Blunt and Damon do an excellent job of selling the chemistry in the limited time they have together, but the stakes were just never elevated that high for me.

    All my problems were with the writing and directing. I think with a better writer and director you could have had something romantic and thrilling. As is, it’s a mess.

  37. LYT says:

    Here’s the thing with reviews: they are always subjective.

    If someone enjoys a movie, even if they see its flaws, they’ll cut it some slack. Or vice versa.

    And here’s where I lay down some controversy: ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is waaaaay more cinematic than THE KING’S SPEECH, which is basically a pretty good, very well-sourced play, shot with a camera and an emotional score added so we know precisely how to feel, and when.

    TAB has huge flaws, among them the Chairman’s rule about hats, but it actually feels staged and edited for a camera.

    I don’t advocate paying for TAB, but it’s pleasant enough to watch. Same for King’s Speech, but it is less of a movie-movie.

  38. IOv3 says:

    It’s a Hat. You people don’t like HATS? I wear a hat every day. I can’t go out without a hat, so if I were god, my people would wear rocking fedoras! Or Cubs hats. A lot of Cubs hats.

    I also have to disagree with you about the scoring in The King’s Speech. If anything, the performances sell the mood of that film more than anything. The music helps but it’s the acting that makes that movie. You are also another person whose just dismissing awesome directing that sells SPEECH.

    What’s funny, is the way you are describing The King’s Speech, to me, sums up The Social Network. Your reasoning also to not go to the theatre, is bogus. Always go to the theatre folks, it’s always better than at home unless you are Bon Jovi and have a personal screening room, which is basically the size of a small theatre in a megaplex.

  39. LexG says:

    B-plus movie, but BLUNTY was SOOOOOO charming and delightful.

    Movie kind of reminded me of the Adrian Brody/Keira Knightley THE JACKET in its earnest, completely rootable love story element.

  40. leahnz says:

    this thread seems past it but my two cents in the jar – i always need a few days to percolate on a movie, which in this case i enjoyed, not wildly but sweetly and romantically. everyone is entitled to dislike ‘adjustment bureau’ for whatever reasons they see fit of course, but just a few thoughts about some of the stuff mentioned in this thread:

    ———– SPOILERY ——————–

    i didn’t quite see the big plot holes and nonsensicalness mentioned here; within the framework of the story (the rules ARE all random and made up, i’m not sure how the story could be told without that being the case considering the outlandish premise of the movie), i thought everything was explained fairly clearly and made sense in its own way. for example re: water, on the boat and in subsequent conversations harry explains to david the the bureau isn’t infallible and the adjusters have human-like inadequacies, such as how water muddles the keen psychic assesment ability the adjusters normally have; WHY this is the case isn’t explained, no, but would explaining the properties of water that prevent the adjusters from being ‘all-seeing’ really make a difference to he story, or just add unnecessary tedium? the angel dudes don’t like water, it messes with their shit, check. within the framework of the story, the rule is at least consistently applied. is it silly? well, i guess it depends on your level of suspension of disbelief.

    as for there being ‘low/no stakes’, and all that’s at stake is leading a mundane, mediocre life, that’s sort of missing the point, really.

    the ‘stakes’ are all within david’s head during his arc (we see very little of elise’s interior world/POV, this ride is from david’s POV, his perceptions). thompson or whatever stamp’s name was – importantly known as THE HAMMER for his ruthlessness – makes thinly veiled threats against elise to force david’s compliance with ‘the plan’. the issue david must grapple with is not that elise will end up teaching dance to kids, it’s the excruciating PAIN david will have to watch her go thru as the woman he loves suffers injury upon debilitating injury while she sees her dreams of being a great artist evaporate. THAT is what’s at steak for david, elise suffering greatly as the consequence of them being together, watching helplessly the horrible death of the dreams of the love of his life, knowing that he could have prevented it by letting her go. THAT is the emotional stakes. it’s not clear if the bureau will CAUSE elise’s debilitating injuries or if they just see it coming – the ambiguity rather worked for me because it made me wonder just how sinister the bureau can really be – but to david it doesn’t really matter either way because he believes elise will suffer because of him. he is already willing to give up the ‘power’ that plan apparently has in store for him, he makes that decision fairly early on and doesn’t care, but he also has to sacrifice HER dream, which is the ultimate act of selfishness, and that which he can not bear. but interestingly, at the end of the day his desire for her outweighs even his deeply ingrained decency and respect for her, in pursuing her he knows he’s sacrificing both of their future ‘greatness’ and he does it anyway thinking he can somehow outwit the system, that he has to be special somehow (and he’s right, of course, they prove with the power of their love they’re unique, and will forge ahead as such as writers of ‘the plan’ instead of followers, proven makers of their own destiny. a little cornball, yes, but i believe those two crazy kids can make it!). so in short, the end result of elise teaching children if they are together is not the motivator of david’s arc, it’s elise having to suffer getting there, merely one aspect of the greater threat the hammers uses assure david’s compliance.

    damn i’m out of time but i wonder, who was the chairman? harry mentions on the roof to david that he would have met the chairman in passing in the form of either a man or woman as the chairman wanders around, testing people. it might have been a nice touch to give this mystery a bit more weight; trying to think who it might have been in the course of the story, i thought perhaps one of the two people in the taxi/car crash that david stops to help during his relentless pursuit of elise. weirdly the face of the driver of the car isn’t shown when david goes to help him/her, which makes me wonder… anywho that might be utterly baseless conjecture and grasping at straws on my part, i’m just assuming the chairman was in there somewhere.

    (oh, what was the flaw in the rule about their inexplicably small-brimmed hats? i thought that was pretty straightforward, the adjusters must have theirs on to use the doors. did i miss something obvious?)

  41. JKill says:

    Just got back from ADJUSTMENT BUREAU a little bit ago, and really really really liked it. I thought it was just a good story told well with a great Damon lead performance, and very good chemistry between he and Blunt (who was also great and, well, incredibly beautiful). I found the romance element moving and was on board with the whole thing, too invested to question its logic. I’m also going to second what LYT said about it being more cinematic than some are willing to give it credit for being….


    That running sequence during the end, with Damon rockin’ the hat, was awesome and kinetic and just thrilling. I felt like cheering. Nolfi’s visual style, in general, was very effective for this. Ominous and steady when it needed to be, more loose when the moment called for it.

    Actually, the more I think about it, I actually would say I loved it. Just a really fun, entertaining movie. My favorite released so far this year.

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