Love <i>is</i> the most powerful force in the universe, yo ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Love is the most powerful force in the universe, yo

The Adjustment Bureau
My rating:

Ever since the seminal sci-fi film Blade Runner adapted his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in 1982, Philip K. Dick has enjoyed a reputation as The Sci-Fi Author Whose Works Get Made Into Movies. There have now been nine that were based on his novels and short stories (eleven if you count a French film and a direct-to-DVD sequel); it's a pity he died before he got to enjoy the massive amounts of money they would've earned him. Why his stories are so popular with filmmakers, and what makes them inherently filmable and/or commercial, I will leave to those who've read them to examine; I'm just gonna focus on this movie. But here's a review of The Adjustment Bureau from the excellent sci-fi site io9 that takes the angle of how the film compares to Dick's story, and how faithful it is to his themes and style.

I guess I liked it more than they did. But they're right in that it could've been a lot more faithful.

The day that New York Senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) loses his election, he meets, and instantly falls in love with, a woman named Elise (Emily Blunt). Then on the same day he runs into her again by chance, he also makes a shattering discovery: the world is constantly being "adjusted" by a group of strange men in suits, with the power to affect reality itself. One of them, named Richardson (John Slattery), threatens to "reset" him if he reveals their existence, and furthermore tells him he cannot be with Elise; later, a sympathetic Adjuster named Harry (Anthony Mackie) tells him more about the plan that they follow, a plan to shape the entire world - dictated by their mysterious Chairman - that forbids David and Elise from being together. But David continues to defy the plan and pursue the woman he loves, who loves him in return just as strongly. Until another Adjuster named Thompson (Terence Stamp) intervenes and shows him the consequences of deviating from the plan.

Okay, I may not have read much Dick, but I've read of him, and I know that free will - the limits of it, and the illusion of it - is one of the themes he often writes about. This movie isn't about free will, or at least it's not just about it; it's about love, the power of love, and how defiant it can be in the face of even cosmic forces. Which I can dig, yo. Honest to the Chairman, underneath this facade of the cynical, hard-hearted film critic lies a hopeless romantic. David and Elise are willing to fight for their love to the point of defying God Himself - which is of course who the coyly-named Chairman is, with the Adjusters being His angels. The film is more a love story than anything else, and it succeeds quite handily in this respect. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have great chemistry, and it's easy to root for them to get together.

But it's questionable whether emphasizing the romance aspects over everything else was the wisest choice. Because a story about mysterious men in charge of our destinies - the thought of not having free will - is freaky, yo, and that's a huge vein that the film just doesn't seem interested in mining. What we learn about them is pretty cool; its depiction of celestial forces as modern American corporation, complete with yes-men and small-minded middle management, is almost satirical, and there are fascinating little details about their weaknesses, their means of travel, even their hats. (I thought it was going somewhere by having three Adjusters named Richardson, Donaldson and Thompson.) Early trailers even seemed to paint it as something akin to The Matrix, and among the long list of movies that owe huge debts to Dick, that one's near the top.

Still, I found myself swept along by the romance, and the titanic struggle that our hero and heroine undergo for love. Unfortunately, it fails to stick its ending; in fact, it falls into the same pitfall that bedevils* many a story about God and His omnipotence. I'll not reveal it since it's a spoiler, but it is woefully anticlimactic, and even Damon's largely solid performance falters in this scene. It was enough to knock a good half-star off my rating, and brought into sharp relief a number of flaws I was otherwise willing to overlook. Harry's motives for helping David aren't very clear, and it seems awfully convenient that his help is what gives David a chance against literally godlike forces. (And Anthony Mackie always seemed a little off-key). Elise is also something of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a hoary old cliché that I can no longer not notice.

Damon and Blunt are, as mentioned, terrific. Terence Stamp only needs to show up to be sinister. I haven't watched Mad Men, the TV series for which John Slattery is most famous, but he's a lot of fun to watch here. And writer/director George Nolfi is most famous for having had a hand in writing The Bourne Ultimatum, and there are times when his direction generates the suspense and tension of a good old-fashioned thriller. But he is ultimately just the latest in a long line of filmmakers who simply didn't know what to do with a Dickian story. And ultimately, The Adjustment Bureau didn't really have to sacrifice the metaphysically paranoiac elements of its premise just to give us an affecting love story. There's no reason why a sci-fi romance has to downplay the sci-fi.

Which reminds me of The Time Traveler's Wife, another sci-fi romance that did the exact same thing, to its detriment. But I liked The Time Traveler's Wife, and I quite liked this movie too, because once again: TMBF = starry-eyed, bleeding-heart, hopeless faggoty romantic. It's a good date movie, although it could've been much more. But in the interests of providing the kind of thought-provoking that this movie neglected to, here's some food for potentially inflammatory thought: The Adjustment Bureau is a profoundly Christian film, because love is paramount in Jesus' teachings. It is also a profoundly un-Islamic film, because submission to the will of God is paramount in Islam. Discuss!

NEXT REVIEW: Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa
Expectations: not much, frankly

* Pun not really intended, despite my firm belief that puns are a form of humour that's at least in the mid-upper range.


k0k s3n w4i said...

it was one of my most anticipated film this year due to the subject matter. i predicted the ending from the start, but i kept hoping that i would be pleasantly surprised. alas...