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Monday, March 7, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (Release Date: 3-4-2011)

        It's near impossible to think of anyone who has influenced movies so much as Philip K. Dick without ever being involved in their production. The novels of the famed science fiction writer have been made into movies that include, but are certainly not limited to, Blade Runner, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and Total Recall. Dick's writings almost always skew slightly dystopian, using analogy to dissect the problems with the modern world, and the impending hang-ups of tomorrow. They're rich themes, but taken into the wrong hands, their serious intentions can be molded and warped into something like Paycheck or Next. The Adjustment Bureau is the latest attempt to make the man's ideas work on the silver screen.

        Matt Damon stars as David Norris, a young and brash New York politician who is running for senate as the movie opens. Late into election night, he stumbles into an alluring and forward woman (Emily Blunt) who is busy hiding from building security at the time for fear of being punished for crashing a wedding. The magnetic pull between the two is both instant and undeniable, and though the they fail to exchange any information, fate brings them back together on a public bus. But the Adjustment Bureau aren't the type to let fate run rampant. Soon after exiting the vehicle, Norris is swept away into an abandoned warehouse by the fedora-clad clan of the movie's namesake, where he is informed that their group is in charge of making sure that a 'larger plan' is executed, and dissuading those who slip off of their respective paths. Unfortunately for Norris, meeting the girl of his dreams was doing just that, and the rest of the movie turns into a war of wills between a man who's not willing to forget a girl, and a god-head who's determined to keep them apart.

        Despite its intriguing premise, Bureau actually has a few things working against it from the get-go. The movie was pushed back half a year from its original release date of September 17th, 2010, not quite the kiss of death that it was once perceived to be, but not to be confused with a vote of confidence from the studio. The movie is also written and helmed by first-time feature director George Nolfi, and a Dick adaptation is pretty slippery intellectual territory for a rookie film-maker to find himself in. It comes as a relief then that The Adjustment Bureau is by no means a disaster, but calling it a soaring success would be equally misguided. Nolfi's direction is crisp, clean, and aesthetically pleasing, but he seems overwhelmed in his attempts to manage the movie's many thematic shifts. Pitting multiple scenes of undying love next to pulse-raising action sequences isn't usually what one would call a reliable plan, but a more experienced craftsman might have been up to the challenge. Nolfi does his best, but his inexperience shows.

        Without a doubt, the brightest feather in The Adjustment Bureau's cap is the chemistry between its two leads. While Damon occasionally struggles with a pretty ham-fisted script, his scenes with Blunt never fail to affect. The two rattle off their lines as if engaged in actual conversation, making doughy eyes and wild smiles at one another in an endearing enough way to warm up an otherwise cold movie. Their romance over-powers the film's philosophical musings to the degree that the sci-fi aspects start to feel beside the point. Norris seems remarkably unflustered by learning definitively of a domineering higher power, his only real concern being how he can still land the girl. As this is his only concern, it becomes the audience's as well, which would be an easier thing to stomach had the central conceit of the story not been so juicy. What do you get when you mix the accomplished, the uninspired, and the mediocre? You get average, which is pretty much what The Adjustment Bureau is.

Grade: C-

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