MGM // 1992 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // May 17th, 2001
A stilted, offbeat film from independent writer/director Atom Egoyan, The Adjuster sacrifices clarity and compelling drama in favor of dreary artistry and emotionless acting. MGM takes the path of least resistance with an anamorphic video transfer, but otherwise lives down to our expectations with a nearly featureless disc.
Noah (Elias Koteas) is an insurance adjuster who really gets into his work. He gets into his client's lives, helping them to make the most of their misfortune with a big fat insurance claim, finding them alternate housing at a local motel, talking with them, charming them, and eventually into their beds. His wife, Hera (Arsinée Khanjian), works as a censor, editing the most objectionable parts from pornographic films, all the while taping the uncut movies for her own personal use. They live with their son, Simon (Armen Kokorian) and Seta (Rose Sarkisyan), Hera's sister, in an isolated model home that is all that remains of a bankrupt developer and his dream.
Soon Noah's life takes a turn when an alleged film producer, Bubba (Maury Chaykin), and his actress wife, Mimi (Gabrielle Rose), make Noah and Hera an offer for the use of their house as a film location. Uprooting his family to stay in the motel where Noah directs his clients only leads Noah to drift further from his family and aggravate the problems in his life. When he finds out that Bubba and Mimi are not what they seemed to be, the damage is done, both in terms of feelings and property.
The Adjuster is the sort of film that pretentious film students, independent film snobs, and trendy pop-culture philosophers love. Waxing rapturous about Egoyan's often striking framing and imagery, or deconstructing the meanings of the sexual aberrations and predilections of the characters, there is plenty of Starbucks coffeehouse fodder for rarefied debate. Now, if you love to analyze a film down to its component molecules, puzzle out murky motives, and approach a film as an abstract, intellectual enterprise, The Adjuster should meet your needs. On the other hand, if you are looking for a film that entertains you, delights you with intelligent characters, crisp dialogue, and a tightly woven story, you should look elsewhere.
The odd thought that popped into my head part-way through The Adjuster was a fragment of dialogue spoken by Hannibal Lecter, a man not noted for being a film critic. ."...[T]edious, sticky fumblings in the back seat of [a car]..." That sums up my overall reaction to The Adjuster, as a film tedious in length, stuffed beyond capacity with long pauses, meaningless looks, and a glacial pace, heavily seasoned with sexual behavior, infidelity, pornography, exhibitionism, and so on. In my last review of Live Flesh, I criticized the film for its incomprehensibility. For The Adjuster, I was so bored that I did not want to comprehend its facets. The only thing worse than sitting through a tedious film is having to analyze and describe the tedium.
The disappointment of The Adjuster is slightly moderated by the caliber of some members of the cast. However, a substantial portion of the acting seems to be of the subdued, drug-induced haze sort, particularly for lead actor Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line, Gattaca, Exotica) and his on-screen wife Arsinée Khanjian (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), Egoyan's real life wife. Koteas begins to show depth and life late in The Adjuster, but by then, it is too little, too late. Khanjian made me wonder if she only got the job because she sleeps with the writer/director.
On the other hand, Gabrielle Rose (Double Jeopardy, Timecop) has some over-the-top fun with her outrageous character, and Maury Chaykin ("Nero Wolfe," Mystery, Alaska, WarGames) is, as always, a delightful font of low-key acting and subtle humor. In a smaller role, Don McKellar (eXistenZ, Exotica), is brilliantly creepy as Tyler, the young censor. Finally, any fans of the television "La Femme Nikita" will hail the appearance of David Hemblen (known to LFN fans as "George") as the imperial, unsettling head censor, Bert.
The anamorphic video transfer is acceptable. The limited palette seems intentionally muted, but adequately saturated. Sharpness is moderate, flesh tones accurate, but blacks are a bit gray at times. The primary flaws of the transfer are recurrent showers of dirt/film defects and very noticeable and repeated edge enhancement artifacting.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track may very nearly as well have been a mono track. Music comes forth from the front mains, but little else does, leaving nearly everything else to the center channel. I noticed only the faintest of sound from the rears and did not detect any perceptible subwoofer support. The already unobtrusive dialogue is quietly mixed.
As expected, MGM lets us have an anamorphic video transfer, but aside from the expected theatrical trailer, gives us zero extra content. Relatively obscure, difficult films like The Adjuster beg even louder for extra content, particularly a commentary track or featurette, but in a Catch-22, are precisely the sort of niche titles that MGM sees as having limited profit potential unworthy of the expense. Sad, but given their poor track record outside of the Bond films, expected of MGM.
An Egoyan fan may find enough to like in The Adjuster to justify a rental or ($20 retail) purchase, but I doubt that an average viewer with middle of the road film tastes is going to find much here to like. Caveat emptor!
Until we can get the judge to wake up, we must adjourn without a verdict. If the judge were awake, I am sure he would yet again find MGM guilty of a criminal lack of extras.
[Editor's Note: Apparently, Alliance Atlantis has released a Canadian DVD of The Adjuster. It features an Atom Egoyan commentary track, a featurette, and an interview with Atom Egoyan. The box indicates it's in 1.85:1 anamorphic, so unless that's a typo it's been cropped. A trade-off, I suppose. We've only been able to find it listed at one Canadian retailer, Videomatica.]
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* The Egoyan Nucleus