DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, THE (director/writer: George Nolfi; screenwriter: based on the short story “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick; cinematographer: John Toll; editor: Jay Rabinowitz; music: Thomas Newman; cast: Matt Damon (David Norris), Emily Blunt (Elise Sellas), Anthony Mackie (Harry), John Slattery (Richardson), Michael Kelly (Charlie Traynor), Terence Stamp (Thompson); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Michael Hackett/Mr. Nolfi/Bill Carraro/Chris Moore; Universal Pictures; 2011)

 
"It's all hokum, but it travels well until it goes through a few more otherworldly tunnels and doors than it should have."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

The sci-fi thriller is written and directed by George Nolfi, in his directing debut. Nolfi is the writer of “The Bourne Ultimatum.” "Adjustment" is loosely based on the 1954 paranoid short story “Adjustment Team” by celebrated sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. The pic is determined to tell us whether free will or fate is what makes the world go round, but leaves us at the end still trying to figure out that philosophical dilemma--giving us the impression instead that there's the appearance of free will if people don't fuck up and know how to use it. It pushes the belief that the political agenda is best set by idealistic back-room types, aiming to correct the mistakes made when the people are left on their own and bring about world disasters such as wars, a Depression, a Holocaust and a nuclear threat. We learn that a clandestine, male-only hat wearing sect, have the job to align the person with the plan laid out by some unrecognizable god-like figure called the Chairman. It's all hokum, but it travels well until it goes through a few more otherworldly tunnels and doors than it should have.

The up-and-coming idealistic Democrat congressman from Brooklyns, David Norris (Matt Damon), loses a senate race because his past immature discretions are at the last minute exposed by the media. David goes into the toilet at the Waldorf-Astoria, concerned about his concession speech, and is greeted by the beautiful and playful modern dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). There's an instant attraction on both sides and they kiss. Inspired by the free-spirited Elise, David goes off message and gives a well-received concession speech from the heart calling himself out for not following his instincts but saying only what his handlers deemed it safe for him to say.

The next day David goes to the office of his Redhook childhood friend, campaign manager and business colleague, Charlie Traynor (Michael Kelly), and finds Richardson (John Slattery) and a number of Madison Avenue type of well-dressed men in suits and fedoras and more menacing types dressed in black uniforms and wearing goggles scanning the head of the unconscious Charlie with an unfamiliar device. Unable to escape, David is told by Richardson that he's a supernatural agent working for “The Chairman” to keep “the plan,” as written in a book, on track and further tells the politician “You saw behind a curtain you didn’t know existed.” David's told by these creepy tech savvy guys, who don't have omnipotent power, that they fixed Charlie's head so that he will not be greedy but support environmental friendly projects and that they don't want the special person David having any more contact with hottie Elise, because if they're together it will spoil each of their dreams foisted on them by the Chairman--his presidential one and hers to be the best dancer in the world. The lad is told if he can't get with the program, he'll be de-programmed with a lobotomy. After what might be considered a provocative premise, the pic moves along conventional lines even as its protagonist doesn't and risks to throw everything away for love.

As expected the energetic David spends the remainder of the film chasing after Elise and, of course, meeting up with the weary adjusters, who try their best to keep him away from her and on track to realize his goal to save the world as president--a fate that's supposedly written in stone. David finds one adjuster sympathetic, Harry (Anthony Mackie), who takes the trouble to teach him the occult rules of the game his secret group is playing by. Harry is on his case when David happens by chance to meet Elise three years later, when he's on script to run again for the senate and is comfortably leading in the polls. But when David becomes too difficult for Richardson's crew to control, that responsibility is turned over to their more experienced superior agent named Thompson (Terence Stamp).

Left with damning plotholes after its "adjustment" conceit kicks in, the slick pic depends on the viewer's ability to suspend his disbelief and fall back on mixing fantasy with reality--which is helped by the cameos of  popular TV talking heads like Jon Stewart, James Carville and Mary Matalan to give the pic a certain authenticity for the real world of Pop Culture. How much one enjoys the pic doesn't depend on taking any of this farfetched story seriously, but in how much you loved the Hollywood romance carried out by the two likable stars--Blunt and Damon. Isn't that the way Hollywood films usually work? 

REVIEWED ON 3/13/2011       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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