Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Love will keep us together

Image: Universal Studios

It’s been a few years since the last Philip K Dick adaptation hit our screens. The late prolific writer’s work is notoriously difficult to adapt to the big screen, so we approached The Adjustment Bureau with some caution. But while it’s no Blade Runner, it’s a good deal better than, say, Next.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is running to represent New York in the Senate but falls at the last hurdle. Practising his loser’s speech in the men’s room, he runs into the beautiful and bewitching Elise (Emily Blunt). She inspires him to deliver an honest speech about politics that boosts his popularity, but he doesn’t see her again until a chance reunion on a bus three years later. But that second meeting was never supposed to happen, as he discovers when he’s abducted by a group of shadowy men. They are the ones who make sure things happen according to plan, and they will stop at nothing to keep the two apart.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of The Adjustment Bureau is how quickly you find yourself emotionally invested in it. Even the better Philip K Dick adaptations can’t be accused of successfully tugging at the heartstrings. However, thanks to good casting and excellent performances, you’ll find yourself wholly won over by the love story and going along with the film even as it becomes ever more ridiculous.

It’s the directorial debut of Bourne Supremacy writer George Nolfi, and he plays things fairly safe. The many scenes of Damon sprinting down streets do recall his Bourne roles but this is a very different beast. Part romantic drama and part sci-fi, the two genres mesh well here. Of the two, however, it’s the science fiction that struggles to convince. After giving us just enough information in the first half, Nolfi decides that we need everything explained to us. Spiels about the hats and doors slow the film down when it needs to pick up the pace. That’s not to say that there aren’t thrilling moments. The first chase between Norris and the men in hats is a nicely choreographed bit of breathlessness, but repetition wears down our interest. The action works best when it’s given a human face, which falls to the hat-wearing supporting cast to deliver.

Mad Men’s John Slattery is the standout, giving his Adjuster Richardson a nicely sardonic and exasperated edge. The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie does well despite being burdened with a stereotypical character and the lion’s share of the silly exposition. Terence Stamp appears later on as the threatening Thompson with autopilot safely engaged.

It’s Damon and Blunt that make the film. When we’re with the two of them, The Adjustment Bureau soars. Their chemistry is superb and their relationship is believable. We never question that they’re supposed to be together, and we root for them every step of the way. They are the reason why we can recommend this uneven, otherwise forgettable film. While you might not be convinced by “the plan”, or the all-knowing “chairman”, you’ll be convinced by them.

The two leads are good enough to make you see this flawed but heartfelt sci-fi.



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