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The Adjuster

The Adjuster

(L'expert en sinistres)

Year: 1990
Language: English
Format: 35mm Colour
Runtime: 102 min
Director: Atom Egoyan
Producer: Camelia Frieberg, Robert Lantos, Atom Egoyan
Writer: Atom Egoyan
Cinematographer: Paul Sarossy
Editor: Susan Shipton
Sound: Steven Munro
Music: Mychael Danna
Cast: Jennifer Dale, Maury Chaykin, David Hemblen, Gabrielle Rose, Don McKellar, Elias Koteas, Arsinée Khanjian
Production Company: Ego Film Arts, Family Viewing Productions Ltd.

Atom Egoyan’s fourth feature film, The Adjuster, is a haunting drama of emotional isolation and twisted morality. It returns to the familiar terrain of his breakthrough work, Family Viewing (1987), and his subsequent film, Speaking Parts (1989). The Adjuster also affirmed Atom Egoyan’s place among the top-ranking new directors worldwide at the time. The film premiered at Cannes and won the award for best feature at the 1991 Toronto Festival of Festivals, where it was lauded as “a marvel in every sense of the word.” Take One’s Essential Guideto Canadian Film called it “a searching re-interpretation of Luis Buñuel’s Nazarin, with distant echoes of Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice.”

Elias Koteas stars as Noah Render, an insurance adjuster who doesn’t so much live his life as manage it — much like his attempts to handle and restore the damaged lives of his clients, whose homes have been destroyed by fire. His methods are unorthodox: setting clients up in the same “victim’s motel,” sleeping with many of them, and exploiting them in other ways. He repeats like a mantra to each client: “You may not know it yet, but you’re in shock.” Yet this amoral protagonist is one of Egoyan’s most strangely compelling creations.

At home, Noah is a mere phantom to his family, neglecting his wife Hera (Khanjian), who works as a film censor, and her sister Seta (Sarkisyan), who ritualistically burns photographs of her former Beirut neighbourhood by day and watches the violent and pornographic tapes Hera smuggles home from work by night. This odd little family-compact soon collides with Bubba and Mimi (Chaykin and Rose), a perverse couple with more money than sense. They stage bizarre, expensive fantasies for their own amusement, and soon draw Noah and his family into their web. The carefully orchestrated lives everyone has tried so hard to preserve quickly begin to disintegrate.

In addition to its probing, elaborate narrative, the film is impressive for its sheer wit and technical skill. Brilliantly shot in CinemaScope by Paul Sarossy, Egoyan’s effective use of the wide screen portrays the terrifying abyss that separates Noah from everyone he encounters. The story evokes a host of complex emotions and ideas. In his 1995 essay Imaginary Images, Peter Harcourt described it: “With the recurring presence of irrational and bizarre moments, The Adjuster, more than any other Egoyan film, achieves a surreal force.”

Elevated further by Mychael Danna’s musical score and a superb Canadian cast, The Adjuster is an assured, intricate and entertaining film; it stands as a defining moment in Egoyan’s career.

Source: Take One's Essential Guide to Canadian Film; 1991 Festival of Festivals program book