Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Herr Wozzeck's Pit Fight: The Adjustment Bureau vs. Inception

And welcome to another edition of Herr Wozzeck's pit fight.

So... as you can imagine, The Adjustment Bureau was a mildly mindbending film. It had a mildly convoluted plot, it had stuff that would be ludicrous in the real world, and it banks on a very strange concept. So naturally... it would garner a comparison to Inception, right?

... Wait, what?

Yes, there have been more than one review that has compared this movie with Inception, both in good ways and in bad ways. What is it about The Adjustment Bureau that garners that comparison?

Well... when we hear about comparisons like that here at HWR, we like to look further into them. So today, we're going to pit the two in a fight.

Let's get this party started.

The Adjustment Bureau Vs. Inception

Round 1: Story

Well... there's really not a whole lot to say about the story of either film. Both have fairly complex plots, both need some explanation (but that won't play into this round...), and they both have fairly large twists. And both move at a nice clip when you know what's going on. In other words, they're about equal in terms of story. And of course, their stories are both pretty engaging.

So who gets the point in this case?

Well... I'll have to give it to Inception, ultimately because of a couple of things. The first thing is that the ending doesn't feel like a let-down the way The Adjustment Bureau's ending does. It feels like it completes the movie while adding a level of ambiguity to everything that just happened in the movie. While I felt that Adjustment Bureau had an ending that tied up loose ends, something about it felt like it was a minor cop out.

And the second thing is that Inception's story lends a lot more to multiple viewings: this is one of those movies that gets fresh again every time you watch it. I say this because it's carefully structured, and you see things about the characters and their actions in a new light that you couldn't have on a first showing. Adjustment Bureau is unfortunately pretty straightforward and lends itself less to that. So... the point goes to Nolan in this case.

Winner: Inception

Round 2: Characters

Again, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. Inception has a load of great characters in there, from the troubled Dom through the uptight, overly-formal Arthur and the carefree gallivanter Eames to the embodiment of Dom's guilt in Mal's subconscious projection. And Adjustment Bureau also has interesting characters, even if the villains are a little on the over the top side and there are also a lot less of them than before. Again, in terms of characters, they're about equal.

So who gets the point in this case?

Well... I think I'll give the point to both movies, honestly. They both handle their characters extremely well, and their characterizations are all more or less memorable. It's a tough call to make because both movies make their characterizations work under very different circumstances. While Adjustment Bureau has the opportunity to do some micro-managing and work on characterizing its two leads, Inception manages to excellently characterize its large cast.

So the point goes to both of them.

Winner: Both

Round 3: Acting

Ah, a clearer category, finally.

Now... Inception was a movie that was excellently acted. Mal Cobb is one of the most ambiguous characters of last years films, and Marion Cotillard embodied her character's duality perfectly. And everyone else did a great job with the acting as well, even if a lot of the cast didn't quite have as extensive a backstory as Cobb did.

So why is this easier?

Well... as I mentioned in the review, The Adjustment Bureau only needs to have one thing work and a large piece of the rest of it clicks into place: the love between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's characters has to be believable, otherwise a large part of the rest of the movie doesn't exactly work. And fortunately for us, the chemistry between Damon and Blunt manages to make everything click into place.

And that's the deal with Inception: it's a little less about the acting and a little more about the story and the ideas going into the movie. With Adjustment Bureau, the actors have just a little more on their plate since they need to make the love story that is central to that movie's plot believable for us to want to see what will happen to the characters.

So the point goes to the Adjustment Bureau.

Winner: The Adjustment Bureau

Round 4: Material

Okay... so... this category is also seminally difficult.

On the one hand, Chris Nolan spent ten years perfecting the script for Inception. It shows, as the script is very tightly put together on absolutely every front. Also, it manages to do so without being overly hokey. Adjustment Bureau does have a few moments of hokeyness, but it still has good enough material to work with even within some of those moments. Still, you'd think Inception would get the point automatically.

Well, not really. Because this is Nolfi's first film-making attempt. And as far as first film-making attempts go, this is actually a really good start for him. He manages to make what hokeyness there is work (with no small amount of thanks to Damon and Blunt, of course), and that I think manages to excuse some of it. So really, when we take that into account, they both sort of win.

So I'll give the point to both movies.

Winner: Both

Round 5: Execution of Ideas

Hey, another clear topic! Yes, both of these movie's plots ride high on ideas that can mess with your mind if you're not careful. Both deal with how we perceive the world as well, and they're both very high concept ideas.

So who gets the point this time?

Well... those of you who watched Inception might have complained that it's overexplained a lot. I always argue that you need all that exposition or you won't know what the hell is going on throughout the rest of the movie (as my dad so snorily proved the first time I watched Inception with my family), but some don't think that the overexplanation was needed.

But now, I can point you to Adjustment Bureau as an example as to why that complaint doesn't hold any water.

Adjustment Bureau has two key problems with how its ideas are executed. The first, is that the ideas in question are underexplained. It's mentioned at the time that the abilities of the maybe or maybe-not supernatural bureaucrats in the bureau are hampered somewhat if they're near or in water. But this is never explained in further detail, as are a lot of the ideas in the movie. This could create some ambiguity, but at the same time it means that it gives the filmmakers room to cheat with the climax, and the fact that it's not explained well enough could be one of the reasons why the ending doesn't work as well as it should.

And the second key problem is that the ideas just aren't explored as much as they could be. Inception with all its high-wire acts brought on by dreams within a dream on top of another dream actually does deal with what could happen if someone lost themselves within the dream world by exploring what happened to Cobb's wife. We don't quite get any such exploration with Adjustment Bureau, which is a shame because it lends itself to that.

So for those, Inception gets the point.

Winner: Inception

General Winner: Inception, though The Adjustment Bureau put up a good fight.

This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews. I'll see you guys next time.

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