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Science fiction author Philip K. Dick might not be as well known as Arthur C. Clark (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) or Frank Herbert (“Dune”), but he’s written short stories and novels that became several popular films: “Minority Report”, “Total Recall”, “Paycheck”, “Next” and “Blade Runner”. His list of works continually make their way to the big screen and the latest, but definitely not last, edition is “The Adjustment Bureau”. It tackles similar philosophical ideas as his other works, creating an entertaining film experience along the way.
New York Sen. David Norris (Matt Damon) just lost his seat, but a chance encounter with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) inspires him to give the best speech of his career, quickly turning him into the top choice for the next term. David has a bright future ahead of him and one group of mysterious business men wearing hats are greatly invested in his future. With the ability to predict the future, control matter and effectively move through doors all around New York, these guys are all about the plan, whether it be God’s plan or simply fate.
Accidentally, David sees these men at work, controlling the fate of the world, and he’s both sworn to secrecy and told to never see Elise again. Well, even though fate doesn’t want them to be together, change does, as they meet once, twice, more, and David must decide if she’s worth fighting for against the powers that be.
Sci-fi films about freewill vs. predestination are a dime a dozen. After George Orwell’s haunting “1984”, everything feels flat in comparison. There are few things quite like a tale of government control of history, our daily lives and even the internal freedom we often feel we have despite external oppression.
Still, “The Adjustment Bureau” has fun with its concept. In place of God and angels, we’ve got businessmen (yes, they’re all men) and the chairman, who remains out of sight, giving orders to members of the firm via memos.
“The Adjustment Bureau” is meant to be a conversation film. Go see it and discuss the implications in a philosophy class or between sips at a pub.
There’s nothing new here, but I have to remember that the material might have become a bit cliché, the author started playing with these concepts more than 40 years ago. And I doubt he ripped off ideas from contemporary cinema since he died in 1982, right before his novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was adapted into “Blade Runner” (the first of his works to reach the box office). So cliché or not, this is where it began, and to merely snub it as unoriginal would be to miss the interplay between history and modern film.
That said, I can’t sing high praises for the caliber of filmmaking, which is all too modern in most ways. First-time director, George Nolfi, has a keen eye for the film, but the story ending lacks — a shocking conclusion considering his recent writing success with “Bourne Ultimatum”.
Films like this rarely know where to end, often succumbing to sentimentality over critical intrigue, something films like “12 Monkeys” and (for the third time) “Blade Runner” knew how to handle. Even “Minority Report” had an ominous tone while still ending in a traditional blockbuster way.
As usual, Damon is delightful on screen, and Blunt also proves to be a rising star to keep track of. For a pseudo-action flick (I say “pseudo” since there might be chase scenes, but they’re all on foot and no guns or explosions dominate any scene), the chemistry between these love birds is palpable — similar to Zach Braff and Natalie Portman in “Garden State” (take that as good or bad, your choice).
We’ve even got some enjoyable performances by familiar faces like Terrence Stamp as the firm big wig Thompson, nicknamed The Hammer. John Slattery and Anthony Mackie also get in a few enjoyable lines as well, even if the show is stolen by our leads and a veteran performer since 1962.
I once had a roommate who owned an apron that said, “Don’t Expect Miracles.” Funny yes, but also ironic considering he’s an outstanding cook. That’s a good representation of “The Adjustment Bureau”, don’t expect miracles, but at least the story’s got some spice to it.
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