Thursday, March 31, 2011


Written by Ben Ripley
Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright

Colter Stevens: It's the same train but it's different.

The dreamy Jake Gyllenhaal is doing a little dreaming of his own, his head resting against the glass as he rides a commuter train into Chicago, one seemingly random morning. This is the onset of THE SOURCE CODE and when he wakes up, it is pretty clear to everyone around him that something is just not right. Just like his fellow commuters though, Gyllenhaal has no idea what exactly it is that isn’t right. You can tell from the look on his face that he feels like he has been on this train before. It isn’t until he looks in a mirror that he questions whether he is even on the train at all. And it all just blows up after that.

Gyllenhaal is Captain Colter Stevens, an American soldier who is an integral part of an experimental and classified army mission meant to prevent terrorist attacks. The trouble is that Captain Stevens doesn’t seem to have any recollection of his being assigned to this mission; the last thing he remembers is flying in an air strike unit. His problems are only magnified when he realizes that the man he is on the train isn’t even him. Stevens, as it is explained to him, and subsequently us, at frustrating length, is part of the source code when he is on the train. What is the source code, you ask? Well, the source code is eight minutes of recereated or alternate time in which Stevens is transported into another commuter’s body in an effort to find the man who has planted a bomb on the train. This not only makes the source code experimental; it also makes it pretty far fetched.

The train has already blown up in reality. There is nothing that can be done to stop it from happening. The man who blows it up though has bigger designs for the city of Chicago itself and this can still be prevented if only Colter could focus on the task at hand. He cannot focus at first though because he cannot get his footing. It is as if he has had no formal training for this mission and his contacts at the base (Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright) are oddly cold and uncooperative whenever he inquires about anything outside his mission. The purpose is later explained but the blatant attempt to disorient the viewer comes off as more manipulative than revealing. Colter does get the hang of things eventually though and then it all becomes about the puzzle, with every object in plain sight becoming a potential clue. Numerous erratic shakedowns ensue.

Director, Duncan Jones, created a quiet and contemplative work of science fiction with his debut, MOON, and has naturally graduated to the big(ger) leagues with THE SOURCE CODE. While he is efficient with his extra funds, the larger cast and more convoluted story are too much for him to grasp all at once. With a repeated loop of eight minutes and a train that blows up every time those eight minutes elapse, Jones has a very specific frame to work within but there isn’t enough growth between loops to keep people engaged. The other passengers, including Michelle Monaghan, might as well be cardboard cutouts for how much they bring to the experience and they look even more lost than Gyllenhaal did at the start. In the end, the code itself is just too complicated - it requires constant explanation, the effect of which only serves to highlight how ludicrous it is.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Black Sheep interviews Nigel Cole

An interview with director, Nigel Cole

In 1968, 187 women at a Ford automobile plant in Dagenham, a large suburb East of London, England, went on strike. A few miles from there in a small, neighbouring town, Nigel Cole, the man who would go on to tell their story more than forty years later in his latest film, MADE IN DAGENHAM, was but nine years old.

“I actually grew up close to the factory,” Cole tells me when we meet at the Toronto International Film Festival, where MADE IN DAGENHAM had its world premiere. “I was aware of the factory; I had never heard the story though.” The story Cole is referring to is the little strike that changed the world. When the Dagenham Ford plant women decided to strike, it was because their seamstress positions had been downgraded to unskilled worker status.Before long though, it became apparent to them that there was a much bigger battle to be had – the one for equal pay for women.

Their efforts would go on to change the world so how can their story be so obscure? If you’ve never heard it before, you needn’t worry; you’re not the only one. “When the producers came to me, I thought, ‘How could I not know this?’” And Cole actually went to school with other kids whose parents worked at the factory! “It was a really good reason to make the film. This is a story that people should learn.”

Cole tells this historical tale by honouring the facts and fictionalizing the home lives of the women involved. The strikers are led by Rita O’Grady, played by the luminescent, Sally Hawkins. Hawkins was first on board, even before Cole. “I was approached with a rough draft and Sally Hawkins and that was enough for me,” he says. “If it was just Sally I probably still would have signed up.” Rita, a reluctant leader at first, struggles to maintain her newfound duties as the leader of a major movement and her responsibilities to her family.

By taking us into their homes, Cole allows us to see how their struggle was hardly just on the picket lines. “The domestic stories are often inspired by many of the women who were there and are still alive now,” Cole tells me, as portraying them fairly and respectfully was a priority for him. “The structure of the story, how the strike developed, how Ford dealt with it, how the women dealt with it, how the politicians of the day were drawn in by it, is all exactly as it happened.” The perfect balance Cole strikes is one of the things that makes MADE IN DAGENHAM both enlightening and moving.

MADE IN DAGENHAM is Cole’s fifth film as a director, having gotten his start with the British indie successes, SAVING GRACE and CALENDAR GIRLS, films where the underdogs must defeat bigger establishments. “I’m always drawn to David and Goliath stories,” Cole declares proudly. That said, he has no interest in preaching to the converted. No, like every filmmaker out there, Cole wants as wide an audience as possible to see his work and here’s why. “There is no point in making films about social issues that are only seen by middle class liberals. I want to draw in a wide audience and maybe give them something to enjoy but where they actually learn something.”

Another characteristic that seems to be central to all of Cole’s work is its distinctly female voice. Yes, there is a heterosexual male behind the camera but the stories Cole tells are those that resonate more with the ladies. It’s nothing personal against the fellas. “Traditionally, men’s films are about things I’m not particularly interested in,” he says, an opinion I share. “I don’t relish the thought of shooting things or killing or torturing. There are plenty of male directors who do and I should just leave it to them.”

No, Cole sees himself a little differently. “I’m more of a girly man,” he jokes. “Women have a big effect on me in my life. I’m fascinated by them, that’s for sure.” And so Cole truly is a modern man, one in touch enough with his feminine side to not only champion their history on film but to actually get it right.

From a film critic’s perspective, I can genuinely say Cole did get it right. MADE IN DAGENHAM will delight all who see it, even the men who naturally assume they won’t.There’s only one way to know for certain whether Cole got it really right or not though and that would be to ask the women involved in the actual strike what they thought of the film. “I’m thrilled to tell you they loved it,” Cole exclaims, pride beaming from his face. “Its scary stuff because if they didn’t, it would be bad for the movie and bad for me to be able to sleep nights.They thought we caught the spirit of excitement they felt, the fun they had. They were glad we made it look like fun because they said it was.”

And so is the film. Equal fun for all!

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Written and Directed by Thomas McCarthy
Starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale and Alex Shaffer

Abby: Where's Daddy?
Jackie: He's running.
Abby: From what?

Thomas McCarthy’s latest film, WIN WIN, is a little movie about regular people in a small town. McCarthy is no stranger to championing the stories of the every man (perhaps best exemplified in his last film, THE VISITOR) and this time out, he has the most regular of the bunch at the helm. Paul Giamatti is Mike Flaherty, a local New Jersey lawyer struggling to make ends meet, who also works as a high school wrestling coach in an attempt to hold on to his youth. His situation seems to be getting increasingly dire despite his best efforts to turn things around and McCarthy makes it his mission to take the tiny eccentricities that make up Mike’s daily routine and turn them into humorous foibles that are supposed to make his plight more endearing and relatable. Unfortunately, in doing so, he also makes everything feel far less authentic than it needs to be.

Setting up Mike’s life is laborious. The father of two works too much and is not at home as often as he should be. His law practice is going through a slow period and the bills are piling up. Naturally then, as he is jogging in an effort to reduce his stress, he suffers a panic attack. In a desperate effort to get out from under everything, he takes on the care provider role of one of his older clients (Burt Young) to collect the commission that comes from it. Instead of actually providing the service though, he sticks him in an elderly care facility. He has to lie to a judge and his wife (Amy Ryan) in order to make this happen so you just know it isn’t going to end well for him. The obviousness of the set up also makes the wait for the demise quite noticeable. Meanwhile, the lightened tone makes it difficult to know whether any of this is meant to be taken seriously.

Mike’s questionable actions bring about inevitable complication in the form of his client’s grandson, Kyle (promising newcomer, Alex Shaffer), needing a place to stay. It just so happens that Kyle is a naturally gifted wrestler and his fierceness in the ring becomes a great source of inspiration for Mike. In one scene, Kyle explains his strategy to his team; when he’s pinned down to the ground, he does whatever is necessary to break out of that. The knowing look on Giamatti’s face when he hears this means that at one point, he will have to do the same. And as his lies drag him down further into trouble, McCarthy turns WIN WIN into some sort of morality tale about following the path of righteousness in order to succeed in life. The suggestion is that life is a game made up of winners and losers and that we can all be winners if we actually try to do right by ourselves. If only McCarthy had been more genuine himself, then maybe his film would have truly lived up to its name and it wouldn’t feel like McCarthy got pinned down to his own mat.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Black Sheep interviews Matthew McConaughey

Once a Lawyer ...
An interview with Matthew McConaughey

The first thought I had when I saw that Matthew McConaughey was starring in Brad Furman’s THE LINCOLN LAWYER, a modern day dissection of just how far the legal system’s corruption reaches, was how could he not be sick and tired of playing lawyers at this point in his career.

McConaughey’s first big break was in Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED, but he was propelled into the stratosphere of stardom that we know him from, when he starred as Jake Briggance, a fresh, Southern lawyer taking a crack at his first big case in Joel Schumacher’s A TIME TO KILL. Clearly, he was pretty memorable for me as Briggance because it turns out he hasn’t set foot in a courtroom since – well, he hasn’t set foot on a courtroom set since then anyway. And here I was thinking that all the man ever played was lawyers. Fortunately, I did a little research before meeting him.

“I don’t want to say I like lawyers too much in real life but I sure do like playing one,” McConaughey jokes when we meet at the Thompson Hotel in Toronto, the latest pit-stop on his whirlwind of a press tour for his first film in two years. Speaking of whirlwinds, chatting with McConaughey is a lot like what I would imagine getting stuck in one is like. Ask the man a question and he will give you the long answer every time. I could hardly figure when to ask another question because I could never tell if he was done talking. That said, he is also charming, articulate and quite handsome. I’m pretty sure the same cannot be said of whirlwinds.

One of McConaughey’s favorite things to talk about? THE LINCOLN LAWYER. “When people like it, I can tell,” the veteran junket junkie proclaims. “And people are enjoying this film so there is stuff to talk about.” McConaughey plays Mick Haller, a recurring character in a series of legal novels written by Michael Connelly, a character he describes as both a “bottom feeder” and an “idealist”. Mick is a defense lawyer who defends whoever can pay him the highest price at the end of the day. He knows every loop and every hole to get around anything the system throws at him. It’s certainly a far cry from the greenery of Jake Briggance (pictured below).

“Jake was much more small town, just starting off,” McConaughey reveals when asked to compare the two roles. “Mick, this is the world he deals with every day. Everything is barter or a deal. Mick is a poker player.”

The world McConaughey is referring to is one of mistrust and questionable scruples, disguised as the almighty justice system. Mick is set to defend Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillipe), a hotshot realtor who has been accused of attempted rape and battery on a known prostitute. When it becomes apparent that Louis’s innocence may not be so clear cut, every facet of Mick’s life, from his relationship with his ex-wife (Marisa Tomei) to his work on previous cases, begins to fall apart.

“He’s juggling a lot of things; it’s a bit vaudeville,” McConaughey quips. “They can’t just all land at once.” If it didn’t appear as though they all would land at the same time though, it just wouldn’t make for very good drama, now would it?

To further throw off Mick’s balance, he learns that a man he once defended (Michael Pena) was wrongly convicted. He can’t prove it though without breaking the rules he is bound to as a lawyer and this conflict makes his circus act much trickier to uphold. “I was intrigued by this box he is in,” the box being metaphoric, of course. McConaughey continues, “What happens if you found out today that you put, not allowed, but put an innocent man in jail? I can’t imagine a worse nightmare.”

At 41, McConaughey’s real life is anything but a nightmare. He has starred in nearly 40 films and they have grossed over $1.2 billion in North America alone. The man who was once arrested for disturbing the peace, playing bongos in the nude in his home, is now a family man. He has two children with Camila Alves, a Brazilian model, a baby girl who just turned one and a son who will turn three this summer, and they live a happy little life in Malibu, California. According to McConaughey, he enjoys the change of pace a great deal.

“I’ve got enough going on that I don’t need any other ‘new stimulus’,” he says cheekily, complete with air quotes. “When I’m on a film and I’m working, it’s work. I go home after and I have a structured lifestyle. Even if that's the watching the game on television.” His family even travels with him on junkets now.

So what is next now that McConaughey has returned to acting? Well, he continues to go full circle with his career as he is set to star in another Linklater film due out this year, called BERNIE. The best part about this new role? He will once again be playing a lawyer.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER is in theatres now.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
Directed by Greg Mattola
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig
and Seth Rogen

Graeme Willy (at Comic-Con): I love it here. It feels right.

It has never been cool to be a nerd, but if the nerd community has proven anything in recent years, it is that they are a force to be reckoned with. They will band together when necessary to attend giant conventions where they can spend hundreds of dollars on autographs or they will rally thousands of signatures to ensure that their favorite television programs, no matter how obscure, stay on the air. And as their collective power has increased, the more they find themselves represented in the mainstream media, naturally allowing the masses to love them for their endearing social ineptitude. This newfound love of all things geeky is what makes movies like Greg Mattola’s new alien film, PAUL, possible and, boy oh boy, does it ever geek it up hardcore.

PAUL opens on a lone farm house in a large, empty field. Windmills start to turn frantically as a rocking chair rocks back and forth on a porch front. Before long, flashing lights fill the sky and a dog barks at the moon. This is quintessential aliens from outer space cinema and the kitch-tastic intro tells us right away that we will be both delighting in, and sending up, all that we have come to know about alien invader movies. As an added bonus though, stars and writers, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, (the former previously penned the hilarious SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ), provide us with a rather touching look at the loneliness and insecurity that might accompany men who have never known anything other than their obsessions and each other. This is certainly no small feat considering their co-star is a little green guy voiced by Seth Rogen. The threesome embark on a road trip through a horribly unforgiving middle-America, in an attempt to get the little guy home – he had phoned in earlier – and run into a number of peculiar characters, from an actual man in black (Jason Bateman) to a religious zealot (Kristin Wiig). Ideas about God, the universe and space genitalia are exchanged en route.

Fortunately, geeky humour works for all – the geeks who get the inside jokes and everybody else who can just laugh at how incredibly geeky everything is. PAUL may be occasionally predictable or transparent but Mattola is sure to infuse this buddy movie with as much heart and sincerity as is possible, given the subject matter. His work may seem extreme at times (SUPERBAD anyone?) but it is also always relatable and genuine. While he has his audience distracted with the enjoyment they derive from immersing themselves in nerd culture, whether that inspires superiority in one viewer or solace for another, he manages to sneak something in that no one would see coming and that is humanity. Who knew that meeting an alien from another planet could make you feel more like you belong on this one?

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Written by Moira Buffini
Directed by Cary Fukunaga
Starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell
and Sally Hawkins

Jane Eyre: I wish a woman could have action in her life like a man.
It agitates me to know that the horizon is our limit.

A young lady with a stern, hard look on her face leaves a large stately manor. She makes her way into the rain-soaked fields that stretch on as far as she can see. Soon, she can no longer hold back her tears and they stream down her cheeks while she forges ahead toward an unknown destination, an undetermined future On the surface, the introduction to Cary Fukunaga’s second feature, and first major production, JANE EYRE, based on the Charlotte Bronte classic, can come off as dramatic, even overly so. Fortunately for him though, the woman walking this mile in Jane Eyre’s shoes is Mia Wasikowska and it is clear from one look at her that if anyone possesses the resolve to bear the burden of Eyre’s hardships, she does.

There is a particular brand of period piece that always seems to feature women who just don’t fit into the molds society expects they should. Jane Eyre, taken in as a child by her aunt (Sally Hawkins) after her parents passed, has never been looked upon as though she matters. She has always been plain in the face and difficult to control, which renders her somewhat useless, as the only purpose a woman held at the time was to be married off. An uncontrollable tongue needs at least be camouflaged by a pretty face to make it worth the trouble. She grows up surrounded by attempts to make her conform but emerges from the torture triumphant when she pursues a position as a tutor to a young girl who comes from reasonable means. While she continues to be reminded of her place in her new surroundings, she also finds herself the object of affection of the master of the house, Mister Edward Rochester (the strapping, sturdy Michael Fassbender). No one has ever loved her before and suddenly her years of abuse endured show their far reaching ramifications.

Fukunaga entered the world film scene with his brilliant immigration drama, SIN NOMBRE (click for review) in 2009. His eye for understated beauty and sensitivity shown to character in that film are put to great use in JANE EYRE. Like his heroine, the sets and costumes are all spectacular but matted as not to overwhelm. Instead, they are further appreciated for their restraint and delicacy and the same can be said of the entire cast, led by another surprisingly potent performance by Wasikowska. She plays Eyre with so many layers that even she seems unaware of them all at times. She claims to have no tale of woe when asked what hardships she has had to suffer through and her determination to carry on despite everything she’s known is certainly commendable. However, as strong a woman as she is, she cannot escape unscathed, forcing her to learn that love for one’s self is a challenge that is always ongoing. As for allowing one’s self to be loved by another, that takes a strength we may not even know we have and this is what JANE EYRE embodies.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Written by Christopher Bertolini
Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Starring Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan and Michael Pena

Announcer: One thing is clear; the world is at war.

Director Jonathan Liebesman, the man who brought us DARKNESS FALLS and a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE prequel, is about to make contact with his latest film, BATTLE LOS ANGELES. He drops his audience right in the middle of an epic alien invasion bigger than anything you’ve ever seen before on screen. And then, right when it looks like it’s about to get really dire, he takes the action back 24 hours, like a bad television drama might, so that we can contextualize exactly what this devastation has consumed, without realizing whatsoever that no one really cares what happened earlier. All we want to see is what happens next.

By the time you get to what happens next, you won’t care. First you have to meet the platoon that will try to save the world. You’ve got a staff sergeant with a sketchy service record who has just put in for retirement. He will be leading a band of assorted military types who have never been in combat before. There is one grunt who is getting married, one whose wife is pregnant, one who is a virgin still (and therefore cannot die before losing his virginity) and there is even one soldier whose brother died under the command of his new sergeant. There is oh so much at risk for these boys and, thanks to the blatantly obvious setup, we already know what horror awaits them. Once in combat, hardly any of this back-story even gets brought up though, making it so worth going there to begin with, and Liebesman can then focus on what he should have to begin with, blowing stuff up. He blows so much stuff up though that one wonders how he can sustain everything for another 90 minutes. Enter yet another tried and true tension builder; the troops must get themselves and a handful of civilians out of their war zone by a certain time or they will be bombed by an impending American air strike. At least the entire cast getting blown up would have been original.

BATTLE LOS ANGELES is lazy filmmaking. It is one of those pictures that plays out like a bad pitch, so transparent that you can see the Hollywood suits behind the screen counting the money they will make off all who are unfortunate enough to see this disastrous disaster pic. The script is riddled with clichés and none of the actors, not even the usually stellar Aaron Eckhart, can find any meaning in the dialogue they have to force out. (Michelle Rodriguez does a solid job but she’s got to be used to spitting out contrived nonsense by this point in her career.) Even the film’s visual style, the only reason I went to see it, is derivative of DISTRICT 9 – only with all the excitement and electricity sucked out of it. Clearly somebody somewhere wanted to capitalize on that film’s success by stripping it of all intelligent and provocative thought, allowing for more middling audiences to just enjoy kicking some alien ass. In the end, it all amounts to nothing more than a losing battle.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Written by David Johnson
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandes, Max Irons, Gary Oldman
and Julie Christie

The Wolf: You're afraid of me.
Valerie: I'm not afraid. I simply have no interest in talking nonsense.

Filmed in British Columbia, RED RIDING HOOD opens on stunning aerial shots gliding through grand mountains, surrounded by thousands of fir trees, pristine lakes and feathery cloud formations. The shots distinctly reminded me of another supernatural “thriller” shot in the same location and, not coincidentally, by the same director. The director in question is Catherine Hardwicke and RED RIDING HOOD is her first film since she initiated the TWILIGHT series. The opening gave me reason for concern; I had no interest in reliving that tedious vampire series after all. Unfortunately, Hardwicke had other plans.

By the time we are introduced to little red, Miss “What big eyes you have?” herself, Amanda Seyfried, it is pretty clear that this attempt to recount the classic folk tale about a little girl in a red cape and the big, bad wolf waiting to devour her in the forest, is going to amount to nothing more than adolescent angst disguised as epic filmmaking. Seyfried’s mountain town is being terrorized by a werewolf but more importantly, Seyfried is being pawned off in marriage to one guy (Max Irons) while her heart belongs to another (Shiloh Fernandez). The sets, cinematography and score do their best to fill in the terribly thin premise but it isn’t enough to make us forget that Hardwicke has just made another other worldly love triangle tailored to a very specific demographic.

Pandering to a teenage audience is what ultimately takes all of the bite out of RED RIDING HOOD. By trying very hard to recapture that same desperate love at all costs tone the TWILIGHT series relies so heavily on, Hardwicke undermines the intensity of the more horrific story elements she has at her disposal. Seyfried is torn and to make matters worse, one of her suitors might actually be the wolf. Fortunately for her, loving the beast is fully acceptable behaviour for young girls these days. At least in the movies, it is.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Written by John Logan
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Voices by Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty and Alfred Molina

Rango: No man can walk out on his own story.

As I waited for RANGO to start, I was forced to sit through a number of trailers for this year’s other expected animated features. All are unnecessary sequels hoping to cash in on previous success and they all look forced at best. All are of course in 3D as well to ensure the largest returns possible. It all got me wondering where the originality has gone. Even RANGO is yet another animation where animals walk and talk like human beings but somehow this lizard manages to stand out amongst the competition. And he does this despite his best efforts to blend in.

When we first meet Rango, he is self-described as someone who “has yet to enter his own story”. To be fair, your story options are somewhat limited when you’re living in a tank. Fortunately for Rango, and at the precise moment when he realizes he is desperately in need of “an unexpected event to propel the hero into conflict,” he finds himself suddenly trapped in a chain of events that leads him to his new life in the Mojave Desert. Now, Rango is no ordinary lizard. More specifically, he is a chameleon and designed to blend in, but has been on display his whole life. With no idea who he actually is though, Rango has always had to rely on theatrics and drama to distract from himself, which appears to have taken its toll. The other particularly incredible thing about this lizard? He is voiced by Johnny Depp.

Depp is the epitome of neo-cool. He has always been cool by constantly coming off as the embodiment of the freshest take on more classical ideas of cool, without ever looking like he is trying. Here, Depp channels the sprawling cinematic drawl of the Spaghetti Western, with help from his former PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN director, Gore Verbinski. Depp brings his humbled awkwardness along with him and when you couple that with Rango’s incredibly deep-rooted insecurity, you’ve got a lizard in one heck of an existential crisis. While all of this elevates RANGO to a height of animated sophistication that is both thought provoking and hilarious at times, it is also decidedly adult. In fact, an owl mariachi band repeatedly reminds us throughout the film that we are watching the story of our hero’s demise. Taunting children that death is coming seems a bit frightening to me but the owls are awful cute so the news doesn’t seem quite so harsh.

Naturally, Rango meets a bunch of other critters in the desert, most of them not so cuddly, and he must help them save their town by playing the hero they so gravely need. In order to do so though, Rango must actually become the hero instead of just playing the part. Some of RANGO’s imagery and themes may be scary for younger audiences but it’s Rango’s angst over not knowing who he is that will be most frightening for adults. And seeing as how some us never actually get around to pointing that mirror inward, maybe its not such a bad idea after all to get people asking the question a little earlier in life.

Friday, March 04, 2011


Written and Directed by George Nolfi
Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Jack Slattery and Terence Stamp

David Norris: If I'm not supposed to be with her, why do I feel this way?

If you knew that being with you meant that the person you love would never realize his or her dreams, would you walk away from them? If you wanted to, would you even be capable? As interesting a question as it is, it is the kind of question that hardly anything good can come from. If you want to stay, you’re selfish. If you want to go, then you don’t think love matters as much as success does. Regardless of your decision, you won’t be happy either way, but I suppose it got you thinking and that alone has its own value these days. Take that question and throw it into the central story of a movie though and you might have yourself with a pretty compelling drama. Or you might find yourself fully dismayed and just watching THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU.

Matt Damon, whose film choices as of late have all fell flat for me, plays David Norris, the youngest Congressman in American history, in George Nolfi’s directorial debut. Nolfi and Damon last worked together on THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, which Nolfi wrote and Damon starred in. Sadly, their relationship did not end there and, if I am meant to take anything away from their latest collaboration, it would be that it was obviously not meant to. The men who work at this particular bureau all wear snazzy hats and sharp suits but they might as well be wearing sparkly fairy dresses covered in pixie dust, given what their jobs are. These men, who may or may not in fact be angels, are making sure every day that the plan in place for every person on the planet is carried out properly. To do this, they must meddle with humanity as inconspicuously as possible. These are the guys who hide your keys in the morning or spill coffee on your clean shirt so that you leave the house five minutes later and either miss or catch the moment you were intended to. And see, I always thought that was the work of garden gnomes.

Damon meets Emily Blunt’s Elise in a bathroom. The seemingly chance encounter was not at all what it seemed and the two hit it off splendidly. Suddenly though, she must flee, and unlike Cinderella, she leaves neither her name nor her slipper behind. That was supposed to be the end of it, or at least according to the plan it was. The kiss they shared was too good to be forgotten though and neither can get the other out of their heads. The bureau simply cannot have this; it is not in the plan. And so the men in suits and hats do everything in their power to keep these two lovebirds apart. They point their fingers at peoples’ phones and messages appear or they flash a look in another direction and cabs go off duty. I half expected them to start wiggling their noses and disappearing in clouds of smoke at one point. They do all this to prevent Damon and Blunt from having a moment that might lead to a kiss, for a real kiss could alter their universes forever. As laughable and trivial as that sounds, it actually happens in the movie.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU clearly wants to come off as cool but really only comes off as trying too hard. Nolfi’s direction is sorely uneven but with such a weak script, it could not have been easy to make the actors sound convincing. Granted, he wrote the script as well so blaming the writer is just more blame on him. Nolfi strives to get the viewer lost in the perilous divide between fate and chance, all the while trying to figure where free will fits in to the mix. All he does is pose the question though without drawing any actual conclusions. If we actually have free will, I suggest you exercise it and avoid this movie. If our fates are already decided though, I hope you, like me, were not just meant to suffer through this movie.