Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau *** ½
Directed by:
George Nolfi
Written by: George Nolfi based on the story by Philip K. Dick.
Starring: Matt Damon (David Norris), Emily Blunt (Elise Sellas), Anthony Mackie (Harry Mitchell), Terence Stamp (Thompson), John Slattery (Richardson), Michael Kelly (Charlie Traynor), Donnie Keshawarz (Donaldson).

The Adjustment Bureau is my favorite type of science fiction film in that it is one that takes place in a world that could very easily be our own, except for one element. Science fiction films often get weighed down by action movie clichés, and futuristic fight sequences, and quickly get boring to me. But The Adjustment Bureau, despite the fact that it does end in an extended chase sequences, remains intelligent right to the end. It is how science fiction is supposed to be done.

The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris, once the youngest man ever elected to Congress, and now looking to become the youngest Senator for the great State of New York. But on the eve of the election, a scandal is uncovered – it’s nothing serious, just a prank caught on film – but it is enough to kill his election hopes for that year anyway. While practicing his concession speech in what he thinks is an abandoned men’s room, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt). They talk, they laugh, they flirt, they kiss – but then she leaves before he can get her number. She inspires him to loosen up and give an inspired concession speech, not the pre-packaged stuff we normally hear, and once again, he is the wunderkind – although he has to wait for a few years before he can run again. During that time, he cannot stop thinking about Elise. When he meets her again, he is elated – but he quickly discovers that there are forces beyond his control who do not want David and Elise together. I won’t reveal what they are, but needless to say, if you’ve seen the commercials, you know it has something to do with those men in the fedoras (Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp and John Slattery).

The movie is essentially about the age old debate about free will versus predestination. Do we really control the choices we make, or do we only think we do? This has long been a fascination within the sci-fi genre, and for me, it has always been an interesting question. The Adjustment Bureau takes this question at least somewhat seriously (it never becomes heavy handed with it), and the result is a movie that is intelligent and thought provoking, underneath its highly entertaining exterior. I’m sure there will be some who can poke holes in its plot, or even in its logic, and I won’t argue with that. What I will say however is that while The Adjustment Bureau is running, it kept me entertained and thinking – somewhat of a rarity for Hollywood fare.

I think a great deal of the success of the movie comes from the cast. Matt Damon is a charming guy, and you can easily see him as a politician – and a romantic lead. Emily Blunt is great fun as the free spirited Elise, sexy and goofy in equal measure. It can sometimes be hard for me to buy a “meet cute” like this – where characters meet and instantly melt into each other, in love forever, but I had no such problems in this movie. These two just fit together wonderfully. The supporting cast helps a great deal as well – from Anthony Mackie’s sympathetic portrayal of a man who may not quite like his job, to John Slattery’s more businesslike man and especially the great Terence Stamp, who can be as coldly calculating as anyone out there. As farfetched as the premise is, they sell it.

I think The Adjustment Bureau could have been a truly great film had it just pushed itself a little harder. There is a wonderful scene between Stamp and Damon – probably the best in the movie – where Stamp explains the dangers of free will to Damon – and why people like him are necessary. This is not the standard issue evil villain speech, where he admits he’s evil, but argues he is necessary, because he does not believe he is evil. And in a very real way, presented with the reality that we have in the movie, he isn’t. The movie ends on a happy note, and yet if you stop and think about it for a second, it could very easily have had the exact same ending, and yet it be presented as a bad thing – something that could end up destroying everything. The Adjustment Bureau is a superbly entertaining film – great direction, intelligent writing, wonderful performances – but it holds itself back from true greatness because it doesn’t follow its premise to its logical conclusion. It is a very good film – but it could have been great.

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