The Adjustment Bureau [2011 Loose Philip K. Dick adaptation]

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Summary: In this (as usual, loose) adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "Adjustment Team", Matt Damon plays David Norris, a man desperately in love with a woman he met once. Except their love is not in the card, and a strange, otherworldly Adjustment Bureau has been tasked to make sure they never get together. What could have been one of the more epic and philosophical PKD movies instead goes for something more lowkey, dangling in between possibilities but sometimes not sure which way it should go.

BLOT: (15 Mar 2011 - 02:11:57 AM)

The Adjustment Bureau [2011 Loose Philip K. Dick adaptation]

You are supposed to spill a cup of coffee on your shirt. This will make you late for work. It won't be a too-bad day because your boss will suddenly seem more receptive to your plans for solar energy investing. But, you coffee doesn't get spilled on your shirt. Instead, you get on the bus in time. There, you meet Elise again, a woman you fell for almost immediately after seeing last time, who inspired you to toss out all the bullshit political rhetoric and to admit to the voters that your whole image was an act, a calculated accumulation of specialists and consultants. The voters ate it up, but you never saw Elise again. Until today. Except, well, that's not what Fate wanted for you. Fate also did not want you go get to work on time and find your boss being...adjusted. Being made to have the opinion that you want him to have. Something that you would have just taken for granted otherwise.

This is set-up for The Adjustment Bureau. David Norris, played by Matt Damon, falls hard for Elise Sellas, played by Emily Blunt. This contradicts the machinations of the eponymous Bureau, who have other plans for David, plans with which he is interfering. Causing ripples. He must be adjusted, put back on track, made to be the man that he could be in their eyes. The more he clings to the belief that he and Elise must be destined, the more forceful they get, the bigger guns they pull out, and one side has to give.

As far as plots go, it has potential, but it exists in a quantum conundrum, like Schrodinger's Cat. It is a love story, a man-meets-woman tale, and life throws obstacles in the way. This could easily have Hugh Grant and Jennifer Anniston and it could be the IRS as much as any preternatural Adjustment Bureau. The story dangles there, in potentia, both banal and engaging, alive and dead. George Nolfi, the writer director, tricks you into thinking you are in a hazy grey-area between the two, flashes of both coming at you. What you realize, though, the deck is stacked. This is love story. A story about hope versus reality and all that. The only real crisis here is how much are you willing to suffer to get what you want, and once you realize that, there are only two places it can go (together, not together). It simultaneously cheapens the whole enterprise, and makes it exciting. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a Philip K. Dick loose adaptation1 that has sunlight, hope, love, and friendship. It is about a time.

For the joy of seeing what PKD movies could be if people dived more into his humanitarian elements, you have to up with a few dues. First, a lot of winking and nodding to the heavens whenever they say "The Chairman". They meaning the Bureau's agents, who also talk about how they are known by many names and et cetera. You could reshoot the whole thing with dudes in togas and angel wings and it would have barely impacted the plot as is. Next up, you get fate's machinations being really obvious. Car crash obvious. The coffee spill is a nice touch, the kind of little thing that does trip up is in the day to day, but many of the other "adjustments" are heavy handed and unfun. Practical over mysterious. Which is a shame. Especially when you are expected to swallow lines like "If they kiss, the ripples will be too much".

Mostly, though, you have to put up with a movie that could have been more. More daring. More epic. More exciting. More passionate. Darker. Crazier. More mysterious.2 More something. Towards the end, for instance, you get a man running through gateways, racing against his fate, to get to the woman he loves. This could have been one of the greatest marathons in cinema history: David Norris plowing through doorways and leaping alleyways, flinging himself through airplane cockpits, whatever. What we get is something like a five minute un-chase, followed by another five-minute un-chase, followed by what might be called a five-minute trek up an, albeit pretty, office building. The movie misses some vital element, some final spark, and it is not real easy to say exactly what it is.

Still, The Adjustment Burea gets a number of things right. A love story you can believe in, a political candidate you can hope for. The humanist element. The man who learns the truth but it profits him little as a perfect phildickian protagonist. These are all things of which Dick would have, I think, approved. Not a great movie, somewhere around Fair, but recommended to those who are a sucker for love versus reality storylines. A pleasant enough romp to waste away some time.

1: Complaining about PKD adaptations being so far past "loose" in their interpretation of the original story that they probably should claim the movie script as being original and not based on anything, is a bit like complaining about all the idiots who think zombies eat brains (apologies, sincerely, to the late and very great Dan O'Bannon). It gets you nowhere. We live in a society that, by and large, has decided that PKD is a mine for ideas but a poor vessel for them. All that is often original and humanist and wonderful is his stories is considered a liability, such as when Next completely cut the "golden man" and "survival of the fittest" elements and only left in a couple of names and an idea of seeing the future. The humor was gone and instead we got a simpering love-angle that built up to what a passable ending. And Next is far from the only offender (even Blade Runner, usually cited as the adaptation is derived from a novel more about humanity's own loss of humanity and about the death of the Earth as a viable homeworld than about whether or not replicants have a claim to existence). I can't help but wonder if they would turn Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch into something lacking off-world colonies, drugs, and all the elements that make it up. It would probably end up about some some Stranger from a Strange Land type figure who makes videogames, a cheap Tron rip-off.

2: For instance, Harry [Anthony Mackie] tells Norris that water interferes with their ability to watch and adjust. That's...odd. Why not make it that certain events with a lot of outcomes and sub-events can simply overwhelm them, meaning David would have to utilize moments of chaos to get through.

LABEL(s): Philip K Dick


Written by Doug Bolden

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