Reeling It In: Film has no need for adjustment

Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2011

"The Adjustment Bureau"

Ap Photo/Universal Pictures, Andrew Schwartz
Ap Photo/Universal Pictures, Andrew Schwartz
In this film publicity image released by Universal Pictures, John Slattery, left, and Matt Damon are shown in a scene from, "The Adjustment Bureau."

Universal Pictures

1 hour, 46 minutes

If you're a big fan of science fiction, chances are you've heard the name Philip K. Dick. The prolific writer produced more than 30 science-fiction novels and more than 100 short stories and novellas in his lifetime, the majority produced in the 1950s and 60s.

But chances are, even if you're not a fan of the arcana of science fiction literature, you're still familiar with Dick's work. Over the years there have been 12 big screen adaptations of his work, and at least three television attempts. He is the progenitor of major films like "Blade Runner," "Total Recall," and "Minority Report," as well as junk like "Next" and "Paycheck."

This week's entry, the "Twilight Zone"-esque mystery "The Adjustment Bureau," is only the latest in a long line of, if not always quality, at least always interesting, films. Luckily, "Adjustment" is both.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, an aspiring young politician running to be the next senator from the great state of New York. Damon is immediately both believable and completely engaging in the role of Norris, which is no doubt why people have been asking him, of late, whether he ever plans to run for real. I'm a big fan of Damon, so it's no stretch that I like him in this role, but I don't think my platonic crush has skewed my judgement. He's very good.

After a dispiriting election night defeat, Norris has a chance meeting with beautiful Elise Sellas, a professional dancer, and the connection is electric. The two hit it off completely, but alas, it is not to be. It seems that fate has chosen a different path for the two would-be lovers, and so it would seem that one hurried conversation is all they would ever have. In fact, if the shadowy Adjustment Bureau has it's way, they'll never see each other again.

Enter the men with hats. Anthony Mackie and John Slattery play Mitchell and Richardson, respectively, members of a strange agency that seems to be in charge of "keeping people on the path." Apparently the "Chairman," or "the man upstairs" has a master plan, and it's the adjusters that keep people moving along on their appointed rounds. So, when you spill your coffee unexpectedly, or lose your keys, as it's explained, sometimes it's just chance, but sometimes it's the Adjustment Bureau mucking about, nudging you back on your particular path.

Due to a slightly hokey set of circumstances, David Norris is accidentally allowed to reconnect with Elise, skewing him off his plan, and worse, allowing him to become aware of the existence of the bureau itself. Playing out the classic sci-fi trope of free will versus pre-determination, Norris decides that, plan be damned, he is in love with Elise and will move heaven and earth to be with her.

"The Adjustment Bureau" is much better than I thought it would be. Despite my love for Damon, the movie has been delayed for months, and that rarely bodes well. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The plot is simple, but very intriguing, and the filmmakers smartly chose to create cross-over appeal by making a definite sci-fi film with almost no sci-fi cliches.

Instead, the strongest part of the film is the romance. Not sappy or weepy like a Nicholas Sparks novel, but sharp and funny and incredibly believable. I think what makes the chemistry between Damon and Emily Blunt, who plays Elise, so real is not what you'd expect. It's not a sexual thing, although they are both beautiful people. Instead it's an immediate familiarity and ease with each other that makes me believe that, yes, these two people, though just having met, could spend the rest of their lives together.

That's a rare thing in film, and after watching this movie it made me realize a key component to my favorite unconventional love stories. "Out of Sight," "Stranger Than Fiction," and "Moulin Rouge" each have this kind of quality to the relationships. Of course, it's not all peaches and cream -- what kind of a love story would that be? -- but the beautifully crafted interaction between the leads makes the rocky parts all the more intense, and the reuniting all the better.

Now, some might accuse me of simply having a crush on Jennifer Lopez, Maggie Gyllenhall, and Nicole Kidman, and that may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that they are all great in these films.

Toward the end, "The Adjustment Bureau" gets a little bogged down in the details, but it's only a minor setback. I was very pleased with the ending, and with the tone of the film as a whole.

Often these movies have a dark, sinister feel to them, but not here. The adjusters, far from being keystone cops, do have a kind of weary humor about them. They are portrayed as workin' guys, jusy trying to keep everybody on plan. It's not a comedy, but neither will it leave you shaken.

Grade: A-

"The Adjustment Bureau" is rated PG-13 for mild violence, language, and sensuality.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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