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Movie Review: 'Adjustment Bureau' a mind-bending entertainer

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“The Adjustment Bureau”
Directed by: George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp
Rated: PG-13

When the ending credits for “The Adjustment Bureau” rolled, things came into better focus for me. The film is (loosely) based on a novel by Philip K. Dick. I still can't figure out why the people behind it haven't pushed that fact in their advertising campaign.

There's a whole generation of people who grew up in the 1960s and still love Dick's mix of science fiction and metaphysics. To use an old phrase, it's quite trippy.

A number of his works have been adapted into successful films. “Blade Runner” is based on Dick's story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

“Total Recall,” “Minority Report,” “Screamers” and “A Scanner Darkly” are all based on his novels or short stories.

Much of the author's work has themes that are drenched in what some consider paranoid schizophrenia. His drug use is well-documented, and in 1974, Dick had a period he referred to as “2-3-74.” For a few months, he experienced a series of visions and believed he was not only Philip K. Dick, the writer living in the 1970s, but also someone named Thomas who was a martyred Christian in first century, A.D. Rome. That was probably as inspiring as it was frightening.

While the backdrop of “The Adjustment Bureau” is fueled by Dick's patented paranoid perspective, it's not necessarily a scary element. Weird, yes. Frightening? Maybe. But not evil. It's simply a “what if?” look at existence. I think everyone, at some point when young, wonders if maybe the whole universe just exists for them. And who knows?

Screenwriter George Nolfi has worked with Matt Damon before on “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Ocean's Twelve.” Here, Nolfi not only adapted Dick's novel for the screenplay but makes his debut as a director. He rises to the occasion. There's not a dull moment in “The Adjustment Bureau,” and as bizarre as the story is, it's never confusing and always moves at a quick pace.

Besides not mentioning Philip K. Dick in advance notices for the film, the previews are somewhat misleading as well. They focus on the science fiction and fantasy elements. In fact it is, at heart, a very touching love story - a love story surrounded by weirdness but still a love story. Stars Emily Blunt and Damon have a great chemistry on-screen, and you'll have no trouble believing they are a “real life” couple, despite the incredibly strange things that happen to them.

Damon plays David Norris, an up-and-coming politician who loses his senate race after a tabloid publishes an old (and embarrassing) photo of him. That's fate for you. At his concession speech he meets - in the men's room of the Waldorf - the enchanting Elise (Emily Blunt.) Again, another twist of fate.

As fate would have it, he loses her phone number. The scene showing this happen is one of the first hints that something weird is going on in David's life.

It's fate. He meets her again three years later by chance (this time not fate).

The way that Philip K. Dick and George Nolfi present the powers of Fate (with a capital “F”) is engaging. David isn't supposed to know anything about the men with suits and ties and fedoras who follow his every move, but he discovers them. At this point, viewers (at least me) start to wonder if David might be like Roman Polanski's character in “The Tenant.” Is he going mad? Is he schizoid? Are these hat-wearing puppet masters real?

David begins to learn way too much of what these “adjusters” are all about and also learns how to achieve one of their own best tricks. While wearing a fedora, it seems one can open a door - just make sure you turn the knob in the proper direction - and be transported to another location. The guys with the hats have interactive books with maps of these doors and where they lead.

The men in hats are bound and determined to keep David and Elise apart, and slowly we discover the reasons why. In the world created by Philip K. Dick, fate is no happenstance. It's predetermined but has to be manipulated to make sure the predetermination actually comes about. If not, there will be a butterfly effect of consequences.

To be honest, I am sadly lacking in my knowledge of Greek mythology and am not familiar with the legend of Eurydice and Orpheus. In doing research for this review, I found that “The Adjustment Bureau” is being compared to that classic as well as “Orphée,” Jean Cocteau’s 1949 film version of the myth. I haven't seen that either but have ordered the DVD.

As weird as “The Adjustment Bureau” is, it is never mind numbing, and director Nolfi makes no fumbles. The love story is the heart and soul of the film, even while the milieu that the lovers inhabit makes for mind-bending entertainment.

Since seeing the movie, though, I pay attention every time I turn a door knob.[[In-content Ad]]


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