The Adjustment Bureau

By • March 10, 2011

Composer: Thomas Newman
Label: Relativity Music Group
Suggested Retail Price: $9.99
Grade: A+



If there was one composer who could walk amongst the mainstream Hollywood sound, while oftentimes sounding as if he was some invisible secret angel on a mission of funk, than that person would Thomas Newman. Both traits suit him very well to wear the retro-hats of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, a score that’s all things weird, wonderful and romantic about this utterly unique musician. Where his father Alfred Newman was the master of the gloriously lush score, Newman’s own predilections tended toward modern rock at the beginning of his career- even if it would be the sweepingly orchestral (if just a touch weird) scores that saw him achieve breakout success with the likes of LITTLE WOMEN, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. It’s almost hard to remember that Newman got his start with such jive-ethereal “youth” scores as RECKLESS, REAL GENIUS, REVENGE OF THE NERDS and THE LOST BOYS. Members of the 80’s generation like myself missed their unbridled sense of discovery and fun, even if the sound filtered into Newman’s bigger-release likes of SCENT OF A WOMAN and UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL before becoming truly in vogue, if not a bit “grown up” with AMERICAN BEAUTY and ERIN BROKOVICH.


Though Newman has remained a masterful composer of rustic feminism (THE HORSE WHISPERER), surreal cartoon craziness (FINDING NEMO) and American Gothic beats (LITTLE CHILDREN), few scores have returned the composer to the sound that inspired him like THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. For all of its beautifully lush symphonic melody, there’s ironically twinkling music to spare in BUREAU, full of enough zestily youthful guitars, dulcimers and echoing piano keys to cause an instant flashback to the glory days of Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards. Here, Newman uses this electric, eclectic style to capture the burst of heart-pattering first love between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, as well as his hot political energy in such cues as “Elise and “The Girl in the Bus.”


Of course, Newman conjures a beautiful, pensive theme, the kind he does so well for decades-long captives, widowed gangsters and southern spinsters. But he makes them smaller for all of their smooth quality, as a tender acoustic guitar sits well alongside the orchestra of “None of Them Are You,” while Afro-sounding percussion jams with electric guitar in “New Leaf.” For a film about control, there’s a cool, hip edginess to ASSIGNMENT BUREAU that speaks for lovers refusing to be fate-bound- attraction that rises to the level of star-crossed magic with the thinking bells and percussion of its end title “The Ripples Must Be Endless,” the melody symphonically rising with wistful, flute-topped cosmic importance.


While never handed a science fiction score as such, Newman certainly has a way with playing mythic characters, whether it’s the hallelujah chorus of the God-struck OSCAR AND LUCINDA or the homespun magic of a man seemingly possessed by a PHENONEMON. The early 60’s-style celestial BUREAU puts the composer back on neo-religious ground, where he’d trod with the gnarled brass that signaled THE RAPTURE, the heraldic strings that accompanied the ANGELS IN AMERICA, or the sly comedy and sympathy he gave to Death on Earth in MEET JOE BLACK. It’s this latter score that BUREAU hearkens back to the most, music whose somber strings, lonely piano and rich symphonic themes play both the existential loneliness of almighty beings, as well as the glorious, thunder-struck reaction of humans who’ve had a hole cut through their boring world by them. Yet for all of the BUREAU’s machinations, the film has a welcome sense of irony that plays with the whole concept of a faith-based picture, a somewhat loopy sensibility that Newman hears in the BEAUTY-like percussion of “Recalibration,” while the sinister ethnic beat of “Escher Loop” recall the ominous Arabic rock of JARHEAD.


While trailers may have made me fear a soppy romance a la CITY OF ANGELS, BUREAU is more akin a nicely supernatural spin on Damon’s BOURNE series, with enough dimension door-opening to outdo MONSTERS, INC. Much of the film is spent with the stars outrunning the fate-controlling businessmen, sequences in “Square-One Reset” and “Pier 17” that Newman applies his own danger-beat to. It’s a refreshingly unique percussion that’s a welcome change from the scores where it seems just about everyone is forced to cop on John Powell’s trademark IDENTITY rhythms. BUREAU also percolates with subtle menace, rather than the feeling that these angels will pump Damon full of lead if they ever catch him rushing to “Pier 17” or being given an at-first booming talk-down by Terence “The Hammer” Stamp as to “The Illusion of Free Will”- a gripping monologue that Newman makes even more icy by keeping his music at a sinister, ethereal level.


Though cousin Randy’s the more renowned songwriter, Newman’s work with Richard Ashcroft on “Future’s Bright” and “Are You Ready” captures the singer’s Verve vibe, as well as the U2-esque bounce of Newman’s own gnarlier source music. There’s a charged remix by Brit spinmaster Adam Freeland of Sarah Vaughan’s “Fever,” which stands as the coolest, extended (at seven minutes) version of jazz oldie to accompany an action scene since Bill Conti had his tap-dancing way with Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” in the cool THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR revamp.


Consistently, and movingly engaging as a film and score, the fate-controlled ADJUSTMENT BUREAU gives the sense that anything can happen, even if you’ve seen enough of these angel pictures (going back to IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, though BUREAU probably wouldn’t admit it). Newman’s race to an uncontrollably pre-ordained plot destination feels looser and hipper than anything he’s done outside of his Disney work. For a composer who’s immediately recognizable while being completely undefined in multiple dimensions of Hollywood genres, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU feels like Newman’s back in a souped-up 80’s experimental hair band in the best way- all with the old-school scoring sensibility that’s made his family a dynasty to give pause to any angelic mad men.


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