29 July 2011

Movies: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1385826/

Billed as a sci-fi romance thriller. Probably more accurately a fantasy romance thriller. I didn't notice anything that would qualify the film as sci-fi, except that it's based on a story written by Philip K. Dick, an author generally classified as a sci-fi writer. You've probably seen or heard of more than a few films based on his stories.*

It's about a young politician, David, that by chance meets a young ballerina, Elise, on the night that David lost election to the senate. There was just something about her that inspired him to give a non-standard concession speech, a speech that resonated so well with the voters it actually sets him up well for the next senate election. Three months later David meets Elise again by chance on a bus. This is when we're introduced to a group called the Adjustment Bureau, who spent the rest of the film trying to split the two up and keep their lives from intersecting again.

It's a pretty interesting story that unfolds as you learn more about the Adjustment Bureau, what they do, how long they've been doing it, and where they come from. The explanation of their existence raises at least as many questions as it answers, if not more. Different folks interpret the meaning and parallels different ways.

Stars Matt Damon as David, Emily Blunt as Elise, and supported by a fine supporting cast. No complaints on the acting from any of the cast.

Filmed well, staged well, good subtle special effects work. Interesting concept. Yeah there's some romance-stuff in there too. But that's sort of central to the story to fuel the drive of David to continue to pursue Elise through the film. Their deep attraction is explained as the story plays out.
I think the best thriller portion of the film kicks in during the final half hour. The first hour and change introduces you to the players, the Bureau, slowly exposes more of what's going on. By that final half hour you know pretty much what is going on and need to see it played out to a conclusion.

It isn't a big film, and by that I mean it isn't chock full of effects and screaming and explosions and collapsing buildings and gunfights or anything remotely close to a Michael Bay film. Actually it's probably the complete opposite of a Bay film. This film has plot, dialog, emotion, some depth to the characters, the fantasy is integrated well with 'normal' reality, and you are allowed to freely breathe through the film.

If I had a complaint it would be that the David/Elise relationship just felt a little less than authentic for some reason. It just didn't quite seem as authentic as, say, Damon's Jason Bourne to Marie relationship in the Bourne Identity. Perhaps it had to do with the film having to tell verbally instead of showing the strength and depth of the David/Elise relationship? Everything we know about them is explained in snatches of dialog.
I suppose another would be the sudden disappearance of David's best friend near the end of the film despite his seemingly larger influential role spanning the first 2/3 of the film.

How does this stack up with other adaptations of Philip K. Dick's works? Probably fairly in the middle.
Regardless of the minor issues, by the end of the film I realized that overall I did like the film. I'm not gushing about it, I just liked it. I found that despite the first hour seeming methodically paced as it steps through everything, the payoff was worth the wait.

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Edit: Rethinking Fantasy vs. Sci-Fi on this film.
I suppose one could argue that technology advanced beyond our understanding would appear to be magic or supernatural in origin. Thus the hats, maps and other tools-of-the-trade that the Adjustment Bureau uses could be really advanced technology, and the members and their abilities could be some super advanced race that 'guides' happenings on Earth. End result would be sci-fi. But it still seems to me to be of such an advanced nature it still seems more fantasy than sci-fi. A lot of 'pure' science fiction has some basis in the physics as understood at the time it's written. I can see that being a possibility, to a point, in this film, but I'm still not sold on that classification.

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