The Adjuster Review
Noah Render (Elias Koteas) is an insurance adjuster, specialising in cases of domestic fires, and given to crossing the lines between personal and professional by sleeping with his clients. His wife Hera (Arsinée Khanjian) works for the film classification board, secretly taping the pornographic films she is expected to classify and censor, for the benefit of Seta (Rose Sarkisyan), who lives with them and their son Simon in a show house. Then they meet Bubba (Maury Chaykin), who is wanting to make a movie in this house...
To begin on a personal note, The Adjuster was the first Atom Egoyan film I ever saw, on its UK cinema release in May 1992. It may have not been the best place to start, an opinion confirmed by rewatching it again twenty-one years later for this review.
Certainly as a film it's clearly of a piece which Egoyan's previous work. The intricate storyline, which requires some attention from the viewer to fit all the strands together, is largely driven by the characters' sexualities, with voyeurism, roleplaying and bisexuality playing a noticeable part. I don't know how accurate a picture of Canadian censorship is shown here, and it's not hard to detect some satire – though to the best of my knowledge Egoyan has not had trouble with censors. (We don't see the material that Hera is employed to classify – which may be just as well – though we do have a pretty good idea of its nature from the soundtrack.) The emphasis on technology, video especially, as an enabler and an inhibitor to human contact, is there too, though downplayed compared to Speaking Parts, and in The Adjuster plain-vanilla still photography plays just as large a part. The repertory of regular actors is joined by Elias Koteas (at the time mixing independent cinema such as this with a leading role in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise), Maury Chaykin and Don McKellar, all of whom would work with Egoyan again. Behind the camera, Egoyan continued his collaboration with composer Mychael Danna (Egoyan can be heard on the soundtrack playing classical guitar) and DP Paul Sarossy, shooting in Scope for the first time. There's certainly nothing wrong with any of the contributions of the above, but for a film about making connections it fails to connect.
Egoyan's early work has a chilly, disconnected feel, which for many people made them works of the head rather than the heart. The Sweet Hereafter was the film that changed a lot of minds, but that's actually deceptive: it's soon clear that the plot convolutions of Speaking Parts are rooted in its characters' emotional pain, alienation and need for connection. (You can find the same deceptive lack of affect – the effect of the affect, as it were – in certain of the films of Egoyan's compatriot, and fellow Torontoan, David Cronenberg.) The Adjuster certainly fits in with all of this, but it remains a remote, work, and not the most involving one either. Undoubtedly it has its fascinations, like all of Egoyan's work, but it's a hermetic experience. We're on the outside, looking in.
The Adjuster is the fourth of Artificial Eye's Egoyan reissues, and is released on Blu-ray and DVD. It was the latter which was received for review, and comments and affiliate links refer to that edition. For affiliate links for the Blu-ray go here. The DVD is single-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. Like Family Viewing and Speaking Parts, this film bore an 18 certificate in the cinema but, unlike those two, it retains it on this release.
As said above, this was Egoyan's first feature in Scope, shot with anamorphic lenses. He and Sarossy make full use of the wide frame and the DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 2.40:1, widescreen-enhanced. The transfer is the solid job that you usually get from this distributor, sharp and colourful where it needs to be, with blacks as they should be and grain natural and filmlike.
This was also Egoyan's first film with a stereo soundtrack. It was a couple of years too early for digital sound, so this was released in analogue Dolby Stereo, a sound mix that is the source of the Dolby Surround (2.0). The Adjuster has quite an elaborate sound design, with the surrounds being used not just for Danna's score but for such things as fire, a thunderstorm and a stadium sound system blasting out “High School Confidential” during a cheerleader routine. There's also some use of left and right, for example an arrow shot by Noah landing offscreen and in your front-left speaker.
As with the other Egoyan releases, this English-language film has no hard-of-hearing subtitles available and there are no extras either.
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