THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011)
Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Terence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, Michael Kelly, Anthony Ruivivar, Daniel Dae Kim, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Liam Ferguson, Michael R. Bloomberg, James Carville, Mary Matalin, Jon Stewart and Wolf Blitzer.
Screenplay by George Nolfi.
Directed by George Nolfi.
Distributed by Universal Pictures. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13.
I’ve never quite gotten Hollywood’s takes on the works of visionary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. While many of the films based on his work have gained critical and popular success – such as Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall, I’ve always felt they were interesting, but they have left me a little cold.
The Adjustment Bureau is the first Dick adaptation that truly and completely works, in my opinion.
Granted, it is a rather loose adaption of the story, but perhaps the reason for this is that the science fiction aspects are really just a series of huge complications for what is at heart an old-fashioned love story. Can a relationship be strong enough to survive when fate is literally conspiring against you?
Matt Damon plays David Norman – a political rising star in the Democratic Party, one who may even be on the fast track for President. On the night that he loses his first Senatorial bid, he meets a gorgeous and unconventional British dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt). There is an instant spark, but she has to leave before he can get any contact information.
Months later, by complete coincidence, he runs into her on a bus on the way to his new job. The connection is still there; he gets her phone number and promises to call her.
The problem was – he wasn’t supposed to be on that bus. Fate – which in this film is the titular group of bureaucratic “angels” (well, sort of like angels, and yet not…) who look over humankind – had wanted him to miss that bus. Because he made it and arrives at work on time, David actually finds out about something that no human is supposed to know – that free will is essentially designed for people by a bunch of supernatural watchers and handlers. Not the little stuff so much, but the bureau is very hands on in the huge life-altering moments. In their minds, it is better to forego a certain amount of free will for the overall good of humankind.
Once David learns about the Bureau’s existence, he finds out that both he and Elise are being watched over and groomed for stardom – him in politics and her in the world of dance. However, if they were to get together they would never achieve these heights.
Therefore David has a huge dilemma; choosing true love would kill both of their dreams. It would undo everything for which both had been working so hard for their entire lives.
On the other hand, what is the point of reaching your dreams without sharing it with your one true soulmate?
It is an intriguing moral quandary for a film and one that The Adjustment Bureau milks for all it is worth. Even if David decides to give up his dream to be with Elise, there is an entire huge, omnipotent force determined to assure that it never happens.
However, with the help of his own personal guardian (Anthony Mackie), who has watching over him since he was a boy, David decides to fight the status quo. Why does his fate have to be an either/or proposition? And why – if he were to decide to give up on his aspirations for true love – would the Adjustment Bureau still be fighting him tooth and nail to make sure it does not work out?
As I said, it’s a fascinating quandary and told in a quirky and ultimately romantic way. Some might argue that the ending seems a little bit pat – and they wouldn’t totally be wrong – but it works for this story.
Damon gives the latest of a strong line of performances as the young politico trapped by fate and Blunt does her finest work yet as the forbidden object of his affections. In the meantime, Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp do fine work as bureaucratic handlers trying desperately to keep their project from going completely off the rails.
However, the most impressive part of The Adjustment Bureau is the fact that for all of its imaginative flights of fancy, it is at heart a story as old as time. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy must go through insurmountable odds to try to get her back.
Simple. Elegant. Universal.
The Adjustment Bureau is a surprising, rousing and utter success.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2011.