Friday, April 8, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (Rhoades)

“The Adjustment Bureau” Receives Slight Adjustments
 Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

D’you remember that old Doris Day hit, “Que Sera, Sera”? Whatever will be, will be. A comforting let-it-happen-as-it-will philosophy.
Not so, according to a new Matt Damon sci-fi thriller called “The Adjustment Bureau.” The premise agrees that there’s a plan for each of us, but suggests that it’s helped along – kept on track – by a shadowy metaphysical group known as the Adjustment Bureau.
“The Adjustment Bureau” is currently bending minds at the Tropic Cinema.
In this film, Matt Damon’s character is a popular politician named David Norris. He’s on a fast track, running for the U.S. Senate. Everything’s going according to plan. Then he meets a pretty young dancer named Elise. But what might have been love at first sight gets sidetracked by a series of strange happenings that seem to conspire to keep them apart.
You guessed it. Those events that keep getting in the way of romance are deliberate connivances by this Adjustment Bureau, the team that’s making subtle corrections to keep David’s life to its proper script.
Still, there would be no story if rebellious David Norris didn’t tell karma to kiss off, and pursue the direction his heart takes him. Even if it puts both him and the pretty dark-eyed dancer in danger.
Boyish Matt Damon has emerged as a first rate action star. Witness “The Bourne Identity” and its sequels. While this sci-fi outing may seem a little off-center as an action flick, Damon gets to run, fight, flex his muscles. And he does that well, even throwing in a little acting for good measure.
British beauty Emily Blunt co-stars as the dancer who gets in the way of fate. You’ve seen her as the snarky assistant in “The Devil Wears Prada” and the regal queen in “The Young Victoria.” An A-list leading lady in the making. She matches Damon in wide-eyed puzzlement as they learn their lives are not entirely their own.
“We are the people who make sure things happen according to plan,” says a threatening figure known as Richardson (played by a fedora-clad John Slattery). “We monitor the entire world.”
When Norris chooses the girl over his predetermined political path, he meets with resistance. “This is your plan and we’re determined to keep it that way,” he is told by the adjusters.
So David Norris and Elise go on the lam, a chase that wends them through the labyrinth of New York City.
But their pursuers remain close behind. “Can’t outrun your fate, David,” warns Thompson (played by a scowling Terrance Stamp).
You might see this as a similar theme to “Final Destination,” that death-comes-knocking teen flick. Escaping your fate. However, this film is actually based on a short story called “Adjustment Team” by science-fiction author Philip K. Dick. The 1954 story appeared in Orbit Science Fiction, No. 4, a short-lived anthology fondly remembered by nerds like me. It gave way to other pulps like Fantasy & Science Fiction and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction, published back then by my old friend Joel Davis.
Even if you’re not a sci-fi geek you’ve likely seen films based on Philip K. Dick’s 44 novels and 120-plus short stories. The most famous being Harrison Ford’s “Blade Runner,” based on Dick’s short story titled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Other such films include Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Total Recall” and Tom Cruise’s “Minority Report.”
The late Philip K. Dick liked to explore sociological, political, and metaphysical themes in his stories. “In my writing I even question the universe,” he once said. “I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real.”
Hmm, perhaps we all live inside a movie and Hollywood is merely the Adjustment Bureau. How else did I get from Doris Day to Matt Damon to Philip K. Dick – except for a few slight adjustments in this review?
[from Solares Hill]

1 comment:

Bill Iddings said...

Two recent movies, both with dark sides, remind us of the beauty of ballet.
First came “Black Swan,” which swept the recent awards season for Natalie Portman as a prima ballerina trying to toe the line while going off her rocker.
Now comes “The Adjustment Bureau,” which at first glance seems to exploit the popularity of the AMC television series “Mad Men” -- to the point of employing an “MM” costar, John Slattery -- but amounts to something more and less.
In “The Adjustment Bureau,” British actress Emily Blunt is Elise, a New York City ballerina whose star will rise, though only if she denies her heart. Blunt does not dance as much as Portman, but enough to make us wish that more dance concerts, particularly featuring the unparalleled athletic grace of ballet, were offered around here.
The object of Elise’s affection is David, a wild card Congressman played by Matt Damon. David is due to eventually become President of the United States, but only if he makes the same personal sacrifice as Elise. Sort of the downside of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” the two can’t have their cake -- respectively cheese and beef -- and eat it, too.
Elise and David are thrown together and torn apart by some well-dressed functionaries whose tailored ensembles are topped off with singular head wear. The sight of their narrow-brimmed fedoras creates the misimpression that “The Adjustment Bureau” amounts to little more than a hat trick, and not meaning three goals scored by a single player in one hockey game.
These threatening fellas all look like they stepped out of Madison Avenue in the 1950s, but they’re not really here to rip off “Mad Men.” The Chairman of their board, without ever being further identified by name, turns out to deserve an uppercase “C” in his title. See, they’re like pushy guardian angels, which makes Him you know Who.
That writer/director George Nolfi adapted his script from a 1954 short story by sci-fi/fantasy god (lower case) Philip K. Dick should give some notion of how mind-boggling “The Adjustment Bureau” could get. Dick, after all, wrote “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” his novel that became one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, “Blade Runner.”
Although “The Adjustment Bureau” is not in the same league as “Blade Runner,” it does raise a number of issues and questions, about free will and other matters metaphysical and theological. Its basic premise is that superior beings, at one time in human history, gave mankind free will. They then snatched it away when the human race mucked everything up, proving we can’t handle the truth, and just before we blew ourselves to smithereens (The film invokes the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as the last straw.).
We were left, “The Adjustment Bureau” insists, with the illusion of free will. Now, whenever any of us stray too far from a preordained plan for our destiny, wiser heads who can literally open doors that lead to unexpected places (two of the doors are great ways to sneak into Yankee Stadium and up on the Statue of Liberty) prevail, intruding to get us back on track.
Seems that angels are no different from everybody else who thinks nothing of butting in because they’re convinced they know how to lead someone else’s life. Water, “The Adjustment Bureau” explains, is our only defense to leading our own lives. I might never figure out why.
The cast also includes Anthony Mackie, of “The Hurt Locker,” as someone who sides with David and Elise; and the venerable, steely Terence Stamp as a bureaucratic hard liner who knows how to star cross lovers. As we should remember from “The Limey,” do not mess with Terence Stamp.
It is said that true love never runs smooth, and that love conquers all. How those two things tap out in “The Adjustment Bureau” is for you to see. Suffice to say that Somebody Up There likes us, if only we’d do what He tells us to. But even He’s got a heart, and would no doubt concur with “A Chorus Line” that everything is beautiful at the ballet.