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Sci-fi doesn’t hurt this love story

POSTED: March 3, 2011 1:30 a.m.
/Universal Pictures

John Slattery and Matt Damon star in "The Adjustment Bureau." This science fiction story is more of a love story where the science fiction doesn't feel forced or awkward.

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Who knew a Philip K. Dick story could be so darned romantic?

Dick's work has been adapted into many movies, some of which are either very good ("Minority Report") or bona fide classics ("Bladerunner"). This is the first time, though, that a Philip K. Dick story has been made into a genuinely great love story.

And like most great love stories, "The Adjustment Bureau" begins with a spell-binding first encounter.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is a rising political star. He has transformed his tragic upbringing (his mother, father, and brother all died when he was young) into a no-nonsense, fighter persona. Unfortunately, his fiery behavior leads to an embarrassing incident which dooms his Senatorial campaign.

He withdraws to a men's room on the night of the election to practice his concession speech, only to find out that a beautiful ballerina dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt) happens to be hiding out there (why she is hiding in a men's room creates a nice little joke).

The two instantly spark, speaking to each other as if they were meant to be together, because they were, in fact, meant to be together at one time.

In the world of "The Adjustment Bureau," there is a plan in place for everyone's life. The movie never exactly nails down who writes the plan (they call him/her The Chairman), instead focusing on the theological and philosophical implications of Dick's scenario.

If a higher being has predestined us for a certain life, can we exercise any degree of free will to alter that plan?

Either way, the men who ensure people stick to the plan are called, you guessed it, the Adjustment Bureau. They wear Fifties era fedoras that allow them to traverse time and space by merely going through certain doors.

This device might sound hokey, and it easily could have played that way, but writer/director George Nolfi made a crucial decision to play the "men in hats" thing for comedy. The movie wins huge points by having fun with the concept.

That doesn't mean, however, that the members of the Adjustment Bureau aren't an imposing bunch.

Harry (Anthony Mackie), the Bureau agent assigned to David, is a compassionate fellow who reluctantly steers David to the important moments in his life. But Harry's compassion is the exception. John Slattery (of "Mad Men") plays a hard-nosed, calculating agent called in to deal with the mess created when Harry allows David to miss an important moment.

See, the plan calls for David and Elise to never meet again after that first time. Despite their powerful feelings for each other, the Bureau has bigger things planned for both characters. David will someday become a U.S. President, and Elise will become a world-renowned dancer and choreographer.

Neither destiny will be fulfilled, though, if David and Elise share a life together.

These are choices usually placed only in the hands of the Bureau agents. But Harry's mistake allows David to see what few other humans have ever seen, the Bureau itself.

Now that David knows about these agents pre-arranging everything, they leave the choice to him: leave Elise so that both may prosper in their careers and serve humanity, or stay with Elise, robbing both of them of their personal goals and depriving their fellow men of the good they would have done.

The whole movie hinges on whether we believe David and Elise love each other so much they might be willing to alter the course of history, and to Damon's and Blunt's credit, it is absolutely believable.

Nolfi provides his leads and supporting cast with excellent writing throughout, but the dazzling chemistry between Damon and Blunt make the movie pop off the screen.

The romance drives "The Adjustment Bureau," the science fiction elements add a playful tone, and the philosophical issues lend it a gravity rarely seen in love stories.

This is the latest great Philip K. Dick adaptation.


Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.

 

 



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