Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Not Letting You Out of Sight


If you've watched science fiction movies such as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck and A Scanner Darkly, chances are you'll know who the prolific author Philip K. Dick probably is, with Hollywood slowly but surely tapping on his rich repertoire of works for the big screen treatment. Some become hits, some don't, most boast A-listers attached to the project, from directors such as Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Richard Linklater, Paul Verhoeven and John Woo even, and cast from Tom Cruise to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and almost always not every film stays faithful to the source material.

George Nolfi, writer of The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean's Twelve, adapts from Philip K. Dick's short story Adjustment Team, taking the in-principle concept and crafted quite the romance thriller that explores, like many other films that had gone before it from The Matrix to Vanilla Sky or The Truman Show even, our reality being controlled by a higher order determined to keep chaos manageable and at bay, mocking the notion of free choice, before someone wakes up and realizes that all is not what they seem, and armed with new knowledge, seek to carve a new path out to escape from what's seem to be an unfair reign over one's own life and decision making.

Matt Damon stars as the charismatic congressman David Norris, who's on his way to senatorship if not for some last minute press expose that tanks his campaign. While crafting out a speech in a hotel bathroom, he meets the dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) and the two fall in love almost instantaneously. However, larger forces are at hand to ensure that the plan for the entire world gets to move according to what they designed, and this love story is clearly to be avoided at all costs. So begin that bewildering cat and mouse game with The Adjustment Bureau operatives adamant in stopping David Norris through all their limited (yes, limited, according to rules that will be explained) abilities of short range telekinesis of sorts, and teleportation powers through the opening of seemingly random doors to portals elsewhere.

The science fiction concept here is interesting. There's always a book showing, in indecipherable terms, how events happening now can open up endless possibilities of how things will shape, and showing the one path that unravels in real time, together with alert points and pitfalls that should be avoided, failing which a ripple effect greater than can be contained will be caused. There's also some deus ex machina moments which allowed for the introduction of Terence Stamp's character as a higher order Mr Fix It, nicknamed The Hammer for sledging his way through difficult and sticky situations, brought in to try and provide enticing reasons for David to give up the chase, when fellow underlings Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) and Richardson (John Slattery) have failed. Then there are those hidden portals which open up to probably anywhere in the world, done to perfection through seamless special effects and editing to slice everything together in one fell swoop.

But the more thought provoking issues will be that of free will and destiny, whether everything unravels according to a set path pre-determined by someone else, that what seem to be choices turn out to be no more than what's already laid out and planned for, giving the simple illusion that one has that level of freedom to choose. Discussions in the film crank up the appeal factor, and of course introduces us to this particular sandbox of reality that all the characters have to live with and abide by. For the romantic then, if you're told to give up someone whom you've just met and who could be that soulmate you're looking for, at what price sacrifice comes the question, whether one would be willing to fight, even if it may seem futile, for that chance that you may just beat the system with odds tremendously stacked up against.

That's when The Adjustment Bureau perhaps required a little adjusting itself. The system isn't perfect, and so neither is the film, since its technology isn't as robust, easy to deploy or efficient such as the flashing penlights of the Men in Black. Being the blue-eyed boy of The Bureau's plan also helped since there are much larger plans for both David and his lady love Elise, and seriously it's quite the hard sell trying to give up all the potential and plans laid out in front of you, where you see the seed starting to grow even, for something quite intangible as love. But a romance this is, so that's the path the film undertook, only for this fight against a higher order not too well fleshed out.

I felt that George Nolfi pulled his punches, having set up so much anticipation when David and Elise will try their best to deviate from their destiny, only for one major running sequence - not even the chase we were quite promised and outlined - which underwhelmed, and I suspect could be left as deleted scenes for the DVD. It's like setting the boxing ring for that extended slug, only for a first round knock out to spoil the party and appreciation for the finale, too bright I think, but that's personal as I prefer my science fiction to be rather bleak, so that's a little bias for you readers out there to note since I felt it could have been a more open film rather than a verbatim one, contrary to its theme against the laying things all out for everyone.

Damon shines with plenty of likability factors put into his politician (which is rare considering the profession of choice!) and seriously this is one candidate I would root for and support as he struggles to find some meaning into the mess he's in. The romance between his character and Emily Blunt was believable as they engage in the type of banter couples do, and situations that will call for heartbreak after heartbreak, with the powers that be standing in their way employing tactics that is what I call emotionally cunning - that is - if you want eternal happiness for someone living her dream, don't get in her way and bog her down in a relationship. Hmm.

Still, the production values are gorgeous, and art direction involving the internals of the Bureau were interesting to gawk at, and deserves a second look, as these men with fedoras move around the world tinkering with small, micro level events that have repercussions at the macro level, going along with the whims of a higher being. There is enough scope here to equate the Bureau with how things are governed here even, with issues kicked up to the higher levels of bureaucracy to solve if it exceeds one's bandwidth, or horrors, pay grade! You don't question, but you conform and comply, and for the mavericks who prove their worth through sacrifice and steely determination, hopefully could one day overcome and emerge winners in some form. Recommended!

And of course, there's always that one defining moment or a sequence that will shout right out at you, and mine involves showing off how fit Damon is running around with this track playing in the background:

5 comments:

Indian Stallion said...

I hated this movie.

It started off really well , i figured it to be sort of of conspiracy thriller, but once they brought in the case workers it got really ludicrous.

I mean seriously? The hats? People going around spilling coffee, making taxis go busy and causing dropped calls (I guess we know who caused those issues with iphone 4 now)?

The whole thing just seemed so silly that I started laughing at scenes where humor wasn't really intended.

And yes that pivotal chase scene that didn't happen. That was probably the worst of the lot.

Stefan S said...

Hello Indian Stallion... I thought this film had its moments, and quite stylish to look at too haha

Science Fiction will have to bet that you buy into its suggested technological future, and yeah, to not have that promised chase scene in more exciting terms was a real bummer

SmallPrint said...

These american flims always seem so close minded and its especially glaring when the audience is asian.

Gave freewill and got dark ages? The european dark ages was 500 to 900 AD. Guess what, it was the Tang Dyansty in China and the Classical Age in India. Both were considered great heights of culture.

Really facepalming stuff

Stefan S said...

Some nice observations there SmallPrint :-)

Thomas Watson said...

Loved this movie. I do believe in fate but I also think it can be manipulated. I think it comes down to whether you choose to accept it or not.

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