Monday, March 7, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Review by Pete Roche

What if you discovered that all the little decisions you made throughout the day were manipulated by some shadow force to keep your life on a specific path? Senator wannabe David Norris (Matt Damon) is hotshot Fordham University graduate with a penchant for partying.  He galvanizes young voters on the campaign trail—but not enough to win the first time out.  He’s undaunted, however, because he’s dazzled by a mysterious woman (Emily Blunt) while rehearsing a concession speech in the men’s room.  Electrified by the encounter, he veers off script onstage and relents that his GQ persona and “authentic” image were manufactured by a team whose job involves things like knowing the psychological impact of tie colors and scuff marks on shoes.  He’s about to learn his team isn’t the only one doctoring reality.

David’s contingent loves his candor, but for the time being he’ll have to settle for a “real” job with his campaign manager.  He has a chance encounter with the enigmatic Elise on the bus, but after parting ways again he’s mugged by a bunch of suits that probably just chased Keanu Reeves through the Matrix. “You don’t have free will,” an agents tells David.  “What you have is the illusion of free will.”

The dapper-dressed thugs reveal to the headstrong politician some stuff they’ve never revealed to anyone.  For most people, the series of events occurring throughout any given day are often the result of their meticulous orchestration.  People think they’re “deciding” on Pepsi over Coke—but the selection process is smoke and mirrors. We’re supposed to stick to fatalistic plotlines divined by “The Chairman,” who doesn’t like strays.  The Adjustment Bureau “recalibrates” destinies, and being with Elise just isn’t supposed to happen for David.

But after learning the aspiring ballet star might wed her choreographer, David endeavors to overwrite fate in a manner that would make German meta-physicist Arthur Schopenhauer (and Jason Bourne) proud.  The annoyed adjusters call in reinforcements led by General Zod himself (Terence Stamp), but David’s also got help on the inside.  A sympathetic agent explains the rules of the alternate reality in which the nefarious angels work so love-struck David can turn the tables.  Which coincidentally means crashing a wedding and trespassing in restrooms where he doesn’t belong—just like Elise.

Adapted from a 1950’s mindbender by sci-fi king Philip K. Dick, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is an imaginative suspense thriller with dashes of sci-fi, romance, and humor to lighten the philosophical tone.  Damon is almost nauseatingly likeable, and his chemistry with Blunt is genuine.  The film boasts a cadre of Equilibrium-esque henchmen in black, but there’s not a single firearm in sight.  This heady jaunt isn’t about bullets; the heroes aren’t so much afraid of losing their lives as they are their freedom to choose one another.  Director George Nolfi suggests we should worry less about making bad choices and simply be grateful we can choose anything at all.  It’s a concept Canadian rockers Rush trumpeted on the Permanent Waves album thirty years ago.  Indeed, the lyrics to “Freewill” are so on point here it’s a wonder the track doesn’t feature in the credits. 2 ½  out of 4 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Right on. Dick's visions do make you think, and better so not under the influence. Otherwise one might start living in his mindful dystopias permanently.

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