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Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Thursday, March 3, 2011

In The Adjustment Bureau, clean shaven and square-jawed Matt Damon plays David Norris, a U.S. politician who finds that his free will isn't quite as free as he believed. After chance brings him across the beautiful dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt, doing her best American accent that she can pull off), he finds himself falling hard for her, as if he waited his entire life to meet this one woman. Elise feels the same way he does, and after another chance encounter on a bus, they seem destined to have a whirlwind romance and live happily ever after.

But beware the men in fedoras and the strange unearthly powers they possess, for they have the power to alter David and Elise's lives and make certain that the two would-be lovers never find each other again.

By and large, the works of sci-fi author Philip K. Dick have proven hard to adapt for the screen. As fantastic and genre defining as Blade Runner is, Ridley Scott's movie was only loosely based on Dick's novel. The same holds true for Total Recall which was also loosely adapted from a different Dick story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. And Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, while an enjoyable film to watch, is better remembered today as that movie that showed us what shopping at The Gap will be like 40 years down the road. Only A Scanner Darkly seemed to adequately channel Dick's inner paranoia about the world we inhabit.

I haven't read the original short story that The Adjustment Bureau is based on but while I was watching the movie, the undertones of Dick's work can be seen throughout it. Writer/director George Nolfi, making his debut in the big chair here from a decent career writing for movies, has given us a curious kind of movie: a Philip K. Dick movie that's more of a chick flick, one that has a romantic heart at its core rather than relying on action or thrills to drive it. And strangest of all, that mix works.

In their parts, Damon and Blunt have decent chemistry on-screen. From their initial meeting in a men's restroom to their long wistful looks at each other, Nofli's camera captures a strong emotional connection between them. Damon's acting isn't as dramatic in some parts as one might have expected to have seen, especially from a man who's entire view of how the world is supposed to work has been shattered, but it's also not inadequate.

The adjustment bureau men are the ones wearing hats and able to change the fates of people with their books that show the map of our lives. Playing the watcher of David Norris' life, Anthony Mackie's Harry is like Jimmy Stewart's Clarence the angel from It's a Wonderful Life, except less emotional. John Slattery plays Mackie's boss, Richardson, and in his fedora he looks like he's stepped off from the Mad Men set while still wearing his costume. Terence Stamp is also in this as a supervisor of sorts, and while his weight as an actor of note gives his character a presence, surprisingly much of his scenes aren't representative of his best work.

For his first film as director, George Nolfi takes care and shows promise in not sacrificing his characters' emotional core or the story elements for the sake of standard action fare. He's following in the steps of such screenwriters-turned-directors as Gattaca's Andrew Niccol, The Nines' John August or The Arrival's David Twohy, showing promise in a modestly budgeted first offering.

Lacking any explosions, guns fired or car chases in it (a chase between a running man and a bus doesn't count), The Adjustment Bureau seems like an odd kind of movie based on Matt Damon's career as a leading man. As a romantic mystery with a peppering of science fiction, it's worth watching.

Review Score: 70 / 100

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