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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 11, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 10
Playful Adjustment Bureau a thrilling romance
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Playful Adjustment Bureau a thrilling romance

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Adjustment Bureau
Now Playing


On election night, New York senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon), even in the midst of a somewhat shocking loss, finds himself feeling OK about things thanks to his meeting the beautiful and mysterious Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). They have an instant connection, a fireball of chemistry that gets him to think about his life from an entirely different perspective and leads him to give a concession speech that energizes his supporters and makes him the instant frontrunner for the next campaign.

David and Elise realize instantly they want to be together, but odd circumstances seemingly beyond their control keep pulling them apart. Neither thinks anything of it until David comes to the startling realization that free will isn't everything it's been sold to be, and a group of mysterious figures in meticulously tailored hats has been plotting humanity's path.

But David is in love, and he doesn't want his fate to be decided by some nameless group of figures beholden to a higher power even they've never met. He is going to take charge of his life, mess up their designs, and if free will isn't within his and Elise's grasp, he's going to climb the ladder of power and find out why.

Based on the short story Adjustment Team by legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, the man whose books led to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall, and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, screenwriter and director George Nolfi's The Adjustment Bureau is the year's most refreshing and invigorating surprise. A romantic thriller with supernatural theological overtones, this witty and joyous adventure had me beaming ear to ear in happiness for all 105 minutes of its brisk running time.

Damon and Blunt are perfectly cast as the star-struck lovers kept apart by forces they cannot comprehend, the pair exuding a movie star aura of excellence comparable to Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint's in North by Northwest or James Stewart and Grace Kelly's in Rear Window. Their banter feels natural, lived-in, and fresh, and the screen comes alive every time they're together. They are the engine that keeps things running in exquisite smoothness, and everything about them is so confident and wonderful they become the type of Hollywood pairing (think Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) that I'd be girlishly giddy with enthusiasm to see more of.

The rest of the supporting cast is just as excellent, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and the great Terrence Stamp are just superb as the ethereal Adjustment Team assigned to keep the pair apart, while Michael Kelly makes the most of his scenes with Damon, portraying the wannabe senator's best friend and trusted advisor. Nolfi handles all of his disparate pieces with a driving simplicity that's refreshing, keeping the movie delicate in tone and light on its feet even when tension ratchets up on the two lovebirds tenfold.

I did not make those earlier comparisons to Hitchcock classics in passing. The truth of the matter is that Nolfi has made a suspense-filled romance the old master would have been proud of, and comparisons to both the aforementioned North by Northwest and especially To Catch a Thief are almost unavoidable. Those films were intense, as the danger circling their characters was practically inescapable. But those movies had zip and zing, and manufactured a romantic milieu that was unavoidably infectious. Hitchcock kept things bright even if the end result was potentially catastrophic and tragic.

I won't say that The Adjustment Bureau measures up to Hitchcock's timeless wonders, but I will say that Nolfi proves to be one of the few filmmakers out there that has shot for just that sort of playful Hitchcockian esthetic and come staggeringly close to hitting the bull's eye. While there are hiccups, and while the script sometimes comes close to collapsing under the weight of its own somewhat disconnected aspirations, overall there is a beguiling romantic joviality the likes of which I can't recall seeing in a major Hollywood release in quite some time. This is the kind of film I can't wait to watch and enjoy again and again, and the chances I'll head to the theatre to do just that - probably more than once - are much greater than you'd probably think.

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