The Adjustment Bureau

The Chairman Controls All

         
 

04 March 2011| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

Enticing but it might leave you hungry for merciless, pedigree science-fiction. The Adjustment Bureau is never boring, and neither are its stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Opening in contemporary New York, we get a rippling montage of David Norris as a rising politician leading the Senate race only to be sabotaged by an embarrassing photo from his past that makes headlines. Before he makes a concession speech to his supporting voters, he has a saucy and flirty encounter with Elise in the restroom that inspires him to deliver an impromptu speech that will propel him back into the political spotlight for the next election. Mysterious cloaked men in fedoras happened to have designed this encounter with Elise, but now that they have achieved their goal, they also have plotted to keep them apart for evermore. These omniscient figures are sinister and clandestine instrumentalists secretly control the world. This is interesting but if you are a thoroughbred aficionado of science-fiction you will ultimately desire something harder in the manner of Philip K. Dick, who happened to have penned this [loosely based] short story more than fifty years ago.

Damon (last seen in “True Grit”) and Blunt (“The Devil Wears Prada”) share a supple chemistry – you can believe in their fast moves with each other, and by that, I mean their wit and banter is lively and unpredictable. Taking off of that, adaptation writer and director George Nolfi (who scripted “The Bourne Ultimatum”) creates a certifiable love story in which destiny is interrupted by Adjusters. They are more than men, they have the power to freeze and calibrate people in a way that recalls the methods exploited in “Inception.”

Seemingly, the Adjusters care about politics. They need David to run again for re-election in four years. But they think Elise, a temperamental ballet dancer, will interfere with David’s life plans. Terrence Stamp (“Yes Man”) is the most powerful and ruthless of the Adjusters. John Slattery (TV’s “Mad Men”) and Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker”) are agents whose sole purpose is to keep David “on plan” by instigating events and yet they do not know the reasons behind them. David is inevitably cornered, and browbeaten, by these men. David feels he has the right to know why romantically linking to Elise would get in the way with anything. No inclusive explanation is given, but the agents taunt him that there is no such thing as free will.

One of the agents is a truth spiller and in some way that leaks out the paranoia from the mystery. Our two lovebirds want rewards without consequences and they more or less are abetted by convenient forces as well as by convenient safe storytelling. The movie though has a great sculpted and tidily constructed look. No jittery camera angles either – it is shot in a glassy and polished way. And it shrewdly plays with a metaphysically revolving doors motif that has been rarely done since “Matrix Reloaded.” But you come out more amused than mystified, more unperturbed than tethered.

Works by Dick have become more distinguished now than they were while he was living. His novels and short stories have inspired “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “Minority Report” and a turkey or two such as “Paycheck” with Ben Affleck. When the spirit of his work is respected in film adaptations, you get uncompromised science-fiction that is panic-driven, anxiety-laden and with destinations that are breathtakingly bleak. They can trouble you in an unruly, brain-teasing way. In an authentic Philip K. Dick world, the romantics would have met horrors that would have made them make agonizing paradoxical decisions that would affect not just their destinies but affect the infinite.

105 Minutes. Rated PG-13.

SCI-FI & FANTASY / PHILIP K. DICK ADAPTATION / LATE NIGHT THRILLS

Film Cousins: “Total Recall” (1990); “Dark City” (1998); “Minority Report” (2002); “Inception” (2010).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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