Philip K. Dick’s work lives on this weekend with “The Adjustment Bureau,” a superior adaptation of one of his short stories. Characterized aptly as a science fiction film, it is also one of the most romantic movies I’ve seen in the last year.
In “Bureau” Matt Damon plays rising politician David Norris. On the eve of a crushing defeat in a New York Senate race, he meets ballet dancer Elise (Emily Blunt), and instantly, it is love at first sight. Following an electrifying concession speech, Norris sees his political fortunes change, but then he’s visited by mysterious men wearing hats and dressed like they stepped right off the set of “Mad Men.” These men are members of the Adjustment Bureau, creatures who constantly watch over us. Norris learns that the world is run by these dryly humorous men in hats and things must go strictly according to some predetermined plan. Meeting Elise was a gross deviation from that plan and it is their job to set things right once again. That means that Norris must break things off permanently with Elise. But even the master plan may not be able to stop the progression of true love.
Masterfully written by director George Nolfi, based on the Dick short story called “Adjustment Team,” “Bureau” is grandly entertaining. Billed somewhat as a political thriller, the movie works far better as a romance that uses the science fiction conceit to tell a story of star-crossed love. And Emily Blunt and Matt Damon have convincing chemistry especially as things get ever more tense with the men in hats coming constantly between them.
The supporting casting is very good. Ironically, “Mad Men” series regular John Slattery plays one of the mysterious hat men having great fun with the role. “Hurt Locker’s” Anthony Mackie carves out an angst filled place for himself in the film as a troubled and affected member of the Adjustment Bureau who offers Norris some assistance. But the most delicious of the supporting team is Terence Stamp who plays the cold and calculating Thompson. As is common with a Stamp performance, when he is on screen it is tough to take your eyes off him. Here his menacing Thompson is intimidating without any display of violent tendencies. It is as if Stamp’s Thompson has an aura about him that screams “do what I say or else.” Going toe-to-toe with Thompson isn’t a good idea.
The work of the late Philip K. Dick has produced great movies like “Blade Runner” and even “Minority Report” and not so great adaptations like “Paycheck” and “Imposter.” The bad adaptations merely use his ideas as a jumping off point upon which to drop huge action set-pieces. The main reason that writer/director George Nolfi’s take on Dick’s short story works so well is that it avoids falling into familiar sci-fi trappings that go for action over intelligence. “The Adjustment Bureau” is literate and sophisticated exploring the concept of true love as good as any movie of recent vintage. Reminiscent of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Wings of Desire” that was remade in the US as “City of Angels,” “Bureau” is a movie that artfully tells a story that unfolds elegantly and understands the importance and power of finding that special someone in your life.