Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

(Image from IMP Awards)

The Adjustment Bureau
Romance and sci-fi are not genres that sit well together very often, so chalk this one up as one of those rare exceptions. Based on a Phillip K Dick short story, it tells the story of a an impulsive politician, David Norris (Matt Damon), who on the eve of losing a Senatorial election meets a woman, Elise (Emily Blunt), in the men's (!) while rehearsing his concession speech. The two hit it off immediately and the inspired Norris subsequently knocks his speech out of the park.

Turns out this wasn't all random chance. A secret organisation of what appear to be angels are actually pulling the strings and directing the fate of mankind, including Norris's. His meeting with Elise was orchestrated. Unfortunately this 'Adjutsment Bureau' aren't perfect and a second unplanned encounter between the two puts their grand plans for Norris in jeopardy as the pair threaten to fall in love and alter their destinies.

The film is part romance and part sci-fi thriller, and while it never gets your pulse pounding it does tell its story very well. Much has been said by critics about how well Damon and Blunt play off each other, and it's true, they do - this seems to be half the battle in any kind of on screen love story, and in this the two make a believable pairing - helped along by some decent writing - which makes their dilemmas and choices feel earned instead of contrived. Damon's the star and his affable demeanor helps sell the premise together with the very capable supporting cast of agents/angels played by Anthony Mackie, the ever icy Terence Stamp and scene stealer John Slattery.

In an era of bigger is better blockbusters, Adjustment Bureau is defiantly low key. It never gets bogged down in its grand themes of fate vs free will (though it does raise the issues) and instead focuses on the characters. Nor does it try to be large scale in terms of action or effects, though there are very effective action sequences and some wonderfully understated effects. The mechanics of the Bureau are only explained as far as is necessary for the plot, and to be honest I never felt the need for any further explanation.

This isn't going to go down as a classic, but it achieves what it sets out to do very well. It's entertaining and charming and funny, and despite there never being a genuine sense of danger in the story it manages to remain consistently engaging and even somewhat thought provoking at times. I enjoyed it and it's definitely worth a watch, even for those without an inclination towards science fiction.


dbackdad said...

Nice review. I'd been meaning to see this but had been getting mixed reviews. I like the source material, the actors, and the noirish look of the movie ... so I thought it should be something worth checking out.

Antimatter said...

Thanks - yeah I was not particularly enthused about seeing this but was pleasantly surprised.