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Cinema Signal: Flawed but intriguing. For Sci-fi fans and romantics especially.
. "The Adjustment Bureau"

The Hollywood studios love a success. Even more, they're absolutely enthralled by the source of one. Which is why, since the effect that the movie adaptation of Philip K. Dick's tale "Blade Runner" had on the critical community (2 Oscar nominations and a slew of awards), there have been so many green lights given to the mining of his fascinating, if not particularly commercial, output, you'd think it was exhausted. Apparently not. If you want an intriguing idea that's almost certain to please the critics, adapt another of his yarns--or so it might seem. But, that's what writer George Nolfi does here for his directing debut, having written two Matt Damon starrers, "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Ocean's Twelve."

Dick's world of the future is composed of replicants, human clones, expanded lifespans, destiny and other fantastical, supernatural forces that upset aspects of life that we hold dear and immutable. He wants us to imagine all sorts of mutations of the physical world as we know it, but always in a human context and, repeatedly, as subtle condemnations of society's power structures and corruption.

And, so, from the pen and fecund mind of this sci-fi, Berkeley-based writer (whose middle initial stands for "Kindred"), we've had "Minority Report," "Total Recall," "Paycheck," "A Scanner Darkly" and more. Do you see a consistency there?

Well, one aspect of the films made from his ideas would seem to be that successs depends a great deal on the director's vision, the quality of the writer's adaptation and, indisputably, the stars in the cast. Which brings me to the excellent ones at the center of this yarn, which Nolfi enriched with a romantic angle that wasn't part of Dick's short story.

Front-running candidate for Senator from the great state of New York is David Norris (Matt Damon, "Hereafter") who, in the opening frames, is so many points ahead that the media, which as dubbed him "the GQ Congressman," is now calling him unbeatable. But, deriving from familiar patterns, he screws up (with an entirely contrived expedient that doesn't ring true to smart guy he obviously is). It was his race to lose, and he did just that, putting his political future in some doubt.

The silver lining here is two-fold. Before his concession speech, he goes into the men's room to practice the one written by him and his campaign team. Again, with no great reluctance to avoid the preposterous, Nolfi puts singeing hot ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in one of the stalls when he entered and makes her too embarrassed to let her presence be known. This, of course, is beyond coincidence, but stay with me here.

Maintaining utter silence, she listens to his speech before emerging and the effect she has on the unprepared pol is electrifying. And, the effect is mutual. Do you believe in love and commitment at first sight? Script aside, for the moment, this duo makes it imaginable, which is the first part of the silver lining.

The second is the affect the dancer has on the politician's integrity, which pays off when he abandons the written speech and throws caution to the winds. Again, an electrigying effect, this time on his supporters and the media. But, it's too late to turn the results of the election around, and he's a free man again. Or, so it would seem.

Until now, we had no inkling that the world in which this takes place is anything different than the one we know. But it is. This is Dick's world of the supernatural and, in it, everyone has a pre-ordained destiny. The keepers of it, known as "The Adjustment Bureau," who appear as human as anyone else but have special powers, do not tolerate meetings that aren't part of the blueprint they call "The Plan."

What's the point of strictly preserving it if anyone can go off willy-nilly and make contacts with no thought of how it affects their destiny and that of others? What wide-spread consequences would occur if people knew that such free-will was an illusion. The meeting between David and Elise was not supposed to happen. Ever. And the Bureau won't abide it ever happening again. Only they're not appreciating what a man in love will do.

What we're now wondering is, if the plan were all so absolute, how does it happen that unplanned meetings can occur? The question of what errant force there is in the universe that would allow such a deviation to occur isn't questioned. Perhaps because it would prove to be unanswerable without exposing the chink in the logic. But, be that as it may, the fate that's really at work here is the collaborative conjunction of the stars and not on the cosmic level.

You have an actor who, it seems, can do no wrong as he goes about giving credence to all sorts of material, from a wanted agent who's lost his memory and discovers who he is from the skills he hasn't forgotten in the Bourne series to a clairvoyant who considers the gift a curse in "Hereafter." When you can make such concepts come alive with absolute sympathy from audiences, you don't need a crystal ball to predict you'll be the go-to guy for projects like this one.

Happily, the need for a sympathetic match wasn't lost on Nolfi and his casting department. Blunt provides the precise chemistry needed to arouse credibility in the love-at-first-sight commitment. Of course, she's got the fetching beauty department covered, but she adds a warm intelligence that will touch every romantic in the audience as well as hard-nosed males who'll see her as the smoldering companion they'd want on their side. Together, Damon and Blunt make enough sparks to get your mind off the logical inconsistencies and the fact that, in terms of the essential narrative, she contributes a boat load of romantic intoxication.

As for the Bureau guys who appear out of Dick's supernatural ether when they detect that someone has deviated from their ordained future, their repeated hounding of our hero and his forbidden liason goes to prove or, at least, to suggest that nothing is set in stone--not even the almighty plan. There is even one among them, the good Harry Mitchell, (exemplary Anthony Mackie, "The Hurt Locker") who provides the human touch of understanding that gives the couple some hope of eventual fulfillment.

Nolfi's adaptation takes dramatic advantage of Elise's lover's repeated disappearances without explanation and the fact that if he were to explain the supernatural blueprint controlling their lives she'd think he was batty. This difficulty creates the tension of doubt about how their lives will ultimately be written.

Unfortunately, the attempt to wow us with Elise's dancing skills isn't very convincing, with no real help from the choreographer's attempt to conceal her limitations with choreography that has the male corps de ballet lifting her off the dance floor for most of her routines. She doesn't execute a single pirouette, leap or, even, stretch at the barre. Natalie Portman, where are you when we need you? But, take it as only one more minor carp and it takes little away from Blunt's considerable presence.

This is chancy stuff, commercially and conceptually speaking, as movies made from Dick's "Paycheck" and "A Scanner Darkly" might have warned. But trust actors to embrace challenging material and studios to go with projects their stars want to do. With Damon's track record, who would want to turn him down? We should be happy it works that way. Despite all of Nolfi's nearly unacceptable plot contrivances and other flaws, this is likely to be a crowd pleaser for a number of reasons and Blunt and Damon are two of them.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Emily Blunt and Matt Damon
Dancer Elise and politician David: a magic moment in the men's room.

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