THE ADJUSTER is the sort of film that gives serious cinema a bad name. Elliptical, disconnected and apparently endlessly allusive, its narrative is simultaneously minimalist and impossibly convoluted.
Noah Render (Elias Koteas) is an insurance adjuster; his job requires him to sift through the minutiae of other people's ruined lives and assign a dollar value to their most intimate and invaluable possessions. He frequently engages in sexual liaisons with his clients, all of whom seem to be in a
state of shock. Or so he tells them. Noah's wife Hera (Arsinee Khanjian) works for the Canadian censorship board, and spends her days deciding what sort of material is and is not appropriate for general viewing. She secretly films unsuitable material to show to her sister, Seta (Rose Sarkisyan), a
recent immigrant who speaks no English and is fascinated by her younger sibling's life. Hera has nightmares, and Seta ritualistically burns photographs of her old neighborhood, destroyed by war. They all live in a sterile model home in a half-finished housing development in the middle of nowhere.
The stasis of the Renders' lives is soon disrupted. Noah enters into a troubling relationship with a homosexual client, and Hera is caught in the act of illicit taping by a new censor, who thinks he's found a kindred spirit with whom to share a perverted interest in pornography. Bubba (Maury
Chaykin) and Mimi (Gabrielle Rose), wealthy lovers who amuse themselves by orchestrating elaborate sexual games, further upset matters. Bubba convinces the Renders that he's making a movie and their house would be the perfect location, so they move out temporarily, taking up residence in the same
motel where Noah regularly houses his clients. Noah's carefully compartmentalized life comes apart as his two worlds--the world of his family and that of his devastated client/lovers--are brought together.
This, his fourth feature, is probably the most accessible work by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan (NEXT OF KIN, FAMILY VIEWING, SPEAKING PARTS), but that hardly means it's an exercise in mainstream moviemaking. THE ADJUSTER is all set-up with no payoff; the plot takes forever to describe because of
the wealth of detail that makes up the back story, but once the stage is set, one is faced with the fact that nothing happens.
THE ADJUSTER is emphatically a film of ideas, a film about order and chaos, loss and accumulation, surface and interior. The characters are designed to embody and illustrate these issues, with the result that they're largely uninvolving. Once you get what they stand for, there's not much reason to
watch them, except for the superficial fun of seeing them go through their paces. Noah Render is the most fleshed out characterization, and his determination to quantify the world, to attach arbitrary but consistent meaning to things, is both touching and absurd. When he asks the cost of a dog
pictured in a snapshot or observes of some provocative photographs of a client in bed that they don't show much background, THE ADJUSTER verges on being genuinely, sharply funny. But all too often, Egoyan settles for being "provocative" in the worst possible sense of the word.
The film is relentlessly self-referential, awash in photographs and movies, dreams and memories and tableaux vivants; the viewer is adrift in a sea of symbolic signifiers, an ocean of images dense with meaning. Noah poised at the window of his model home, firing arrows into a billboard depicting a
grimly happy family; Hera with her portable camera whirring at her hip in a darkened screening room; Mimi in cheerleader drag; Noah and a client making love as he continues a verbal inventory of her possessions; so clever, so meaningful, so very dull. It's provocative, but what it largely provokes
is a feeling of irritated despair. (Nudity, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: R
- Review: THE ADJUSTER is the sort of film that gives serious cinema a bad name. Elliptical, disconnected and apparently endlessly allusive, its narrative is simultaneously minimalist and impossibly convoluted. Noah Render (Elias Koteas) is an insurance adjuster; h… (more)