THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

Saw it last night. First movie I’ve paid for since November. Every now and then, that little WGA card hath its benefits. Free movies is one. I love Matt Damon. I love Emily Blunt. Yay!

I loved the movie right up until the very very end. And then it pooped out and fizzled and sort of scattered like leaves into the four winds.

The story’s about something that matters, love. And it’s about sacrifice… “What if you had a choice to be with the one you love, or take away from them the one thing that makes their life worth living…” That’s great in a movie! The character is on the rack. All that was wonderful.

The opening “Meet the Girl” scene is great. One of the best “falling in love in one scene” scenes I’ve ever seen. Well written and acted and all that movie making technical stuff. Mostly, this being a writing blog, well written. They get along so well and fit together so perfectly… I’d even seen the trailer and forgot that’s how they met… So that was excellent.

The problem came later. When it’s Matt In The Crusher vs. the Bad Guy.

The Bad Guy is a sort of God like unseen person who runs the Adjustment Bureau. Basically, God. How do you fight God? How do you get one over on him? It’s REALLY HARD… Just like writing a movie.

One of my little rules of thumb is that the Hero has to save himself. And Matt Damon doesn’t. He doesn’t even grab the guy who decides to help him and say, “I love this girl so much, you’ve got to help me.” The guy, how has a vested interest in the game, true, but basically some guy decides to help Matt out (at great risk to himself and his career, I might add) for no real reason. He just decides without having been convinced by Matt Damon.

Maybe the guy hated Jimmy Kimmel and decided to help Matt Damon… That is a possible reason.

But not one they show you.
So, the hero gets helped partway through by a guy who just sort of magically (right when the writer needed him to) decides to help Matt Damon win his battle.
I found it on a tad on the weak side.

And the weakness compounded at the very end when Matt is executing his kamikaze plan to WIN THE GAME… and gets trapped by the bad guys and is GOING TO LOSE and I was thinking, “Wow, I have no idea how they’re going to get him out of this frying pan. This is one hell of a Low Point for the Hero to fight back from… How on earth are they going to do it?!” And I was thinking, these guys are very highly paid, this one is about to blow me out the back of the theater…

And that’s when it fizzled.
Because the baddest Bad Guy (the one your hero faces last) just hands Matt Damon his victory. They just give it to him.
And the story is over.
And I felt gypped.

Matt Damon didn’t earn it.
He didn’t get it himself.
He didn’t defeat the Bad Guy toe to toe.
He won because he tried hard and they recognized his mighty effort and said, “Attaboy.”

I just didn’t buy it. I felt it sorta fizzled right there at the mega important last two minutes.

And it cost me $10.50.

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23 Comments

Filed under Bad Writing, Screenwriting

23 responses to “THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

  1. Melody Lopez

    I’d read that it was great until the end.

    They needed a lesson from Michael Ardnt on Insanely Great endings…

    OR… I’ve not seen the movie yet…

    but maybe… maybe it was meant to be that GOD is the one that gave him the win…and you failed to see it that way?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Yes, may have been God (the Opponent) who gave him the win, but that’s not the best storytelling, when the Bad Guy just says, “This dude tried real hard. We’ll give him the victory, even though he didn’t really earn it.

      And YES, I was in the theater and was thinking about how Michael Arndt would have ended this movie… I was prepped for an Insanely Great Ending and didn’t get it.

      Ah well.

  2. I was lucky enough to see an advanced screening of this a few weeks ago (perks of being a Ucla student), and had the EXACT same reaction. Glad it wasn’t just me. The ending was truly, even in it’s most literal sense, deus ex machina out the ass. I mean almost anything else and I would have walked out satisfied…but I did see it for free so i really can’t complain 🙂

    • Melody Lopez

      I paid $9.75 to see the movie last night. I was prepared for a horrible ending and left with having experienced my first real escape in a long, long time. I was satisfied with the ending, like a long sigh of relief. I’ve no idea how it could have been better… I really liked it. Was it insanely great, not really but I wasn’t dissatisfied and I think that counts for something too!

      Perhaps had I not read all the criticism I would have been less satisfied. And I am a person who had high expectations when I went to see The Black Swan after having heard it was a surprise ending. Because I expected something other then the Ballet’s ending, I was dissatisfied but still impressed with the story telling.

      But I really liked the ending. I disagree that it was just handed to him. I think he contributed a great deal to his plan and no one else did the running for him.

      I a hopeless romantic and my sensibilities about true love and its power have never waxed or waned. I still believe in its power. As such, I found the ending to be a leap of faith when she took his hand to walk through that door and turn the nob to the left and the ending was an example of how true love conquers all!

      Honestly, I found the movie to be a genuine escape from reality. It made me long for a lost love and wonder “was something keeping us apart?”… it inspired me to believe that I’m on the right path of being tenacious and never giving up hope and always trying… it spoke to my soul and made me cry…but no…it wasn’t like Toy Story 3 where I bawled because it had an ending that was about staying together… Free will is not a meaningful subject. I think it is something we take for granted… but they made it a What if Free Will weren’t free? Type of question…which isn’t something anyone can really relate to…but being together always as in Toy Story… now that’s meaningful and so that makes for an insanely great ending. I for one am so glad I went to see it and felt it was well worth the money spent!

      • Melody Lopez

        I’m sorry I can’t proof myself on this blog. I wish you had a preview pane so I could self edited! LOL

      • yourscreenplaysucks

        I adored the movie until the end. Totally emotional. A great ride, and as you say, all about “was something keeping us apart?”. I’m thrilled you liked the ending. There are lots of moviegoers in this old world, and different ways to approach story. He certainly worked hard to win, no question about that. He also did a LOT of running.

        Being satisfied at the end means you got your money’s worth!

  3. I just watched it and loved it, I think it is one of the best films i’ve seen in a long time, such an emotional roller-coaster..

    So many levels to it I really liked the ending too many films these days end on a sour note it’s good to see the hero win again, I thought it was great he picked love over the rest of his life and was rewarded for it..

    It’s good to see a science fiction film with so much heart in it..

    I could easily go and watch it again and in Australia I paid $18 to see it..

  4. Annie

    I like your thoughts–I hadn’t looked at it that way. I have personal reasons for loving the end in particular. In fact, my reaction to the movie was almost exactly opposite of yours. I loved the concept, but it just wasn’t pulled off well, and didn’t drag me into it at all. Until the end. It was worth seeing it, for me, just for the end. But like I said, I had personal reasons. In general, though, I thought it claimed a lot more of a “thriller” aspect than it delivered on. All of the mystery and suspense that could have been possible was played too obviously, and consequently everything came off jerky and under-acted. Except for the main characters. Emily Blunt was FABULOUS, with Matt Damon coming in close behind. Nearly all of the other roles were very poorly acted, in my opinion. Overall, I loved the concept and message, but wished it had been executed with far more finesse.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      How can Emily Blunt be in every single movie I write? Or one of them, please? Just one!? I’m sorry you didn’t like the rest of the movie, but glad you liked the ending. It takes a lot of folks to run a railroad. I wonder if the thriller part of it, if it worked for people, would work the second time. For that matter, would I like the ending the second time? Hmmm. I have to say, the men in the Grey Flannel Suits and hats were very very cool. Great wardrobe.

      If you had personal reasons to like the end, that means lots of other people did too. What is incredibly personal for a viewer (and a writer) becomes universal… because that same feeling is felt by lots and lots of people… not just one person.

      So, what have you seen lately that worked for you all the way through?

  5. Annie

    I’m really intrigued that our viewpoints are so dissimilar (with the exception of Emily Blunt). I actually thought the wardrobes were over the top and out of place. Lol. Ah well. Such is the life of having an opinion.

    What have I seen lately. I haven’t seen all that many movies, to be honest. I wish I had. At $12 a pop, though, it could get very spendy. I wonder if there’s any cheap theaters around (I just moved, so I’m still discovering things like that). The last thing I saw that worked the WHOLE way through was Ironman. That movie was just fabuliusly put together in all aspects. I did see The King’s Speech, and thought it was well done–I thought the story itself could have used a bit more something, but the chemistry between Colin Firth and Geoffery Rush was absolutely magnificent. They were great opposite each other.

    I haven’t seen most of the big ones. I haven’t seen Black Swan or The Social Network. Haven’t seen Toy Story 3 or The Fighter. All of those did very well Oscar night, and I’m sure I’d have a lot to say about them if I had seen them. But ah well. 🙂 Like I said, I’ll have to find a cheap theater for all of the so-so movies. I could splurge for opening night for all of the huge ones, though.

    • Annie

      By the way, you’re right about the personal reasons thing. In my case, it parallels a certain story in my life with a scary level of accuracy–such that I’m not sure many other people have experienced. But then, where did the movie come from, unless possibly more people COULD identify with it? Definitely one of the huge factors in a story’s success is relatability.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Seeing movies in the theater means you have to spend a ton of dough and time and parking etc. It better be a comedy, best seen with a room full of people, or a BIG movie like MEND IN BLACK that really only works on a giant screen. Intense personal dramas work fine small. TOY STORY 3, however, works great on a huge screen. BLACK SWAN is probably better on a small screen as all the irritating hand held camera won’t be so irritating.

  6. Annie

    Ooh. Yeah. Hand held camera does get irritating, especially in large doses.

  7. christopher atamian

    THIS WAS ONE OF THE WORST MOVIES I HAVE SEEN IN A LONG TIME IF ONLY BECAUSE IT LACKED ANY SENSE OF TENSION–I DIDN’T CARE ABOUT MATT AND EMILY AND THE WHOLE GIMMICKY FATE/FREE WILL DISCUSSION WAS NEVER EXPLORED WITH ANY SERIOUSNESS-THE DOOR-TURNING GIMMICK GOT ANNOYING AFTER A WHILE AS DID THE TSUPID MEN IN HATS AND THEIR IMBECILIC “PLAN NOTEBOOKS” THERE WAS NOTHING TRULY AWFUL IN THIS FILM, IT WAS JUST TEPID. ONE GUY IN FRONT OF ME FELL ASLEEP.

    • Melody Lopez

      It is so interesting that you didn’t like it… and considered it one of the worst movies you’ve seen.

      You’re right… there wasn’t much rising tension… his getting his brain cleaned out didn’t seem enough of a threat to you…but I still loved it.

      I fell for the gimmick and I didn’t think it was perfect…but it was still an escape for me and it is too bad it wasn’t for you. Cause I really enjoyed it and I was expecting a horrible ending! It is why I went…and I was pleasantly surprised… so I got my money’s worth! And I am glad for me! Sad for you.

  8. montag brennel

    Hi, I needed to vent my frustration, and started to write a lengthy post about the things I find problematic, or downright atrocious about this film, but I want to stay energy efficient and suggest everyone watch “A life less ordinary” for a similar (actually the complete opposite) premise that could be much more rewarding. It is definitely a flawed film, but has creativity and atmosphere in spades, and is just tons more fun to watch, despite the odd coupling of Diaz and McGregor (and McGregor and his hairdo). Plus it doesn’t piss one off with the ending as much as Bureau, as it at least tries to show you a miracle instead of some modernized ’60s NY “flair”. ‘Bureau makes sense writing-wise, but it does not try nearly hard enough to be memorable compared to similar better executed ideas. Also it could’ve simply been a TV mini-series with its production values, and then they might have been able to write a decent ending.
    Thanks for the space, and for reading.

    M.

  9. Joe

    Hey, came across your blog. I agree. A nicely written script, then when the “adjusters” have David and Elise cornered atop the fancy Bureau building, Harry shows up, gives some overlordy praise on David’s grit, and the two are free to go. And Thompson just gives in! Why? You can’t challenge the Chairman, but Thompson, as you pointed out, breaks all the rules. Why didn’t he continue with his vendetta for his own sake?

    And a let down: We could have seen the Chairman. It would be expected, but a payoff. I don’t care if it was Harry.

    Nolfi as a director didn’t have me interested enough in David and Elise, even as Damon and Blunt are good. Most of you guys pointed that out. Slattery, Mackie, Stamp as those adjustors are also good, though Thompson could have been more menacing rather than just cool and calculated, which was fine. In contrast I liked that guys like Harry and Richardson seemed…gentlemanly, nice, understanding. It worked for me. And I liked the adjustor wardrobe, by the way. It helped. These guys aren’t villains, they are guys doing their job. Thinking about it, It would have made sense for them to step back when the Chairman intervened, but not Thompson. Thompson should have been a killer.

    One thing I would have liked to see more: We had scenes with Richardson and Harry just reflecting in the Bureau building together. I liked those moments, even as in the whole they mean nothing to the story, but I still wanted to see more. Which is odd to me, actually. Do we need to see the adjustors at home? They aren’t human, after all, and as noted in character exposition they live longer than we do. Do adjustors need back story? Maybe, but they do have a life inside the Bureau. “Remember the tourist case a few years back?” “It’s not that bad…Is it?”

    What else…Well, that’s all I can think of. Just that ending. It’s a rousing climax: Running through wormhole doors that haven’t been exploited in the movie up until then. It was a good set-piece, especially as David and Elise enter the Bureau and have to ward off dozens of adjustors. And, even as it feels cliche, having them hemmed in on the roof of a high building singled something surprising and profound should have happened. Why couldn’t the filmmakers have had David fighting the adjustors off for a little bit. Why not fight Thompson? (Yes, I mean physically) Where was the Chairman? Why couldn’t Thompson define him, or her (I read somewhere one of the ideas was to feature that character, and that she would have be a woman. Why not?) Preferably, I wanted to see Thompson beaten and thrown off the building (Silly, I know, but if it was worked up just right you would have wanted him to fall, too).

    Great script. Laid-back direction. No tension and little interest. Good cast, fine suits, and New York is always where it’s at when weird supernatural s***t goes down.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      You’re welcome to comment on my stuff any time! Hope you like the rest of the blog. If you’re a writer, there is, in theory, some useful material tucked away here. Lately though, I’ve been on a rant about scene description, which is probably not the best thing and tiresome to those who have to put up with it… but it is one of my pet peeves.

    • Brandon

      I thought that you are totally wrong. I just saw this film, (yes I know it is late), and I have to say that the ending was just too easy! I did not like it for most of the reasons the original writer put and thought this should have had a bad ending. I would have hoped that it ended with them being together, but going 20 years into the future to see New York lying in ruins because of Matt Damon not becoming president and a devastating war occurring because of that. I wish that the two being together had some sort of effect that ended badly. I do not know why, but that seems like a more suitable ending.

  10. Devin Reynolds

    First off: I agree with what you said about the scene where they meet in the bathroom. The chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in that scene was enough to make me believe in love at first sight again. That being said, I actually liked the way the third act went (By the way, I dove straight into this without reading the previous comments. I apologize if I rehash anything).

    The “low point” for the protagonist was when Matt sacrifices being with Emily so that they will both have successful lives separate from one another, a decision that, while made out of love, ultimately left him miserable. The point where the “bad guys” have him surrounded, after he donned one of their magic fedoras and demonstrated his willingness to defy The Plan, in an unforgivable way, to be with Emily is in a way, post-climax. He’s already made his choice, he’s already gotten the girl, the story turning on a dime by the Chairman’s sudden approval Matt’s choice was to bring the movie back around to a heartwarming happy ending, which a movie like this one NEEDS TO HAVE. Imagine if they both had been dispatched (or whatever the Bureau does to people who refuse to follow the plan), audiences would have all left theaters feeling terrible and hating the movie. Plus, if you think about it, the idea that everything Matt had gone through up until that point had earned him an unconditional pardon from the powers that be, is really more effective than if he and Emily had simply been successful in their attempt to elude the Bureau. I suppose it would have been kind of cool if Matt had jumped off of the top of the building, and the men from the Bureau had been forced to save him, saying, “alright, we give up, you can be together.” Nevertheless, Matt was never going to destroy this uber-powerful, quasi-omnipresent organization, that’s not the point of the film. The only way for this story to really work is that, at some point, the Bureau had to AGREE to let Matt and Emily be together in peace (or kill them, but that would be a different movie altogether).

    The protagonist’s choices are obviously of paramount importance in any film, they drive the plot forward. That criteria is certainly met in this film, Matt’s repeated refusals to go along with the plan are the driving force behind the plot. But the protagonist is not always required to “save himself (or herself)” in order for a movie to be well-written. Matt’s choices eventually validate him in the eyes of his opponent, in a way, that IS Matt “saving himself,” he does not necessarily need to get the better of the Bureau in any sort of physical or mental contest for the film to work. Victory or defeat in a “toe to toe” struggle is not an absolute precondition that all films must meet in order to be considered good. This wasn’t some action flick where the antagonist is a tangible entity of “pure evil” that needed to be defeated by the “good guy.” The film explores questions about social obligations, true love, and free will with a message that is far more effectively delivered by Matt Damon’s VINDICATION, than it would have ever been by his outright VICTORY.

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I need to see this puppy again. I like what you had to say. Makes me rethink my thinking. I’ll be curious to know what you think about TREE OF LIFE. I did not like it.

  11. Fr. Nathanael, OSB

    The reason Harry helped David was because he felt guilty about holding his father back from being all that he could have been, in order to maintain the Chairman’s plan; this was Harry way to make up for what had happened 30 years before.

    And David was given nothing at the end; he earned the “blank slate” because he sacrificed everything for Elise. He had proven his goodness and maturity to be allowed to write his own ticket.

    The only bad “theology” in this script is that God would never hold back one person’s potential for the good of another.

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