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This Week’s Popcorn – “The Adjustment Bureau”

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March 17, 2011

A Twist of Fate

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer

Filmgoers who welcome hypothesis, wonder, and flight of fancy in their celluloid outings will most likely appreciate director George Nolfi’s “The Adjustment Bureau.”

A witty sci-fi/romance concept adapted from the Philip K. Dick (“Blade Runner,” “Total Recall”) short story, it is convivially brought to life by principals Emily Blunt and Matt Damon.

Tackling one of our favorite mysteries of the universe and traipsing through a few related quandaries along its alternately thoughtful and adventurous way, the suspenseful tale isn’t afraid to ponder outside the box. Fellow travelers soon buy into the creative conjecture, allowing themselves to be wafted about in the inspired system it envisions.

As is oft opined in science fiction and, depending on the circumstances, either heartily welcomed or met with absolute terror, we are not alone. But in this case it’s initially uncertain if this is a good or bad thing. Put simply, someone’s sticking his or her nose in humanity’s business.

The revelation comes after U.S. Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) doesn’t spill his coffee as ordained, and thus once again bumps into Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) who, as the plot conundrum goes, may or may not be his truly intended. You see, these secret agent-looking guys suddenly appear and order a stop to all billing and cooing.

Now, said dudes normally shun direct contact with their clients. But when it’s apparent that their lovesick politician isn’t the sort who’s easily dissuaded, a face-to-face is necessary. They read him the riot act. Move on, buddy. Find another girl. “But why?” he beseeches. “It’s just not how the Chairman has written it,” they inform.

Chairman? Is he, uh, you know? And that, dear reader, is for the Adjustment Bureau agents to know and for Damon’s character and we other mere mortals to find out. Hopefully that will occur before this possibly star-crossed love affair is sent to the recycling bin. In other words, it’s the Olympians messing in Cupid’s bailiwick, American style.

With “this can’t be wrong” as his passionate battle cry, it’s en garde as far as Matt Damon’s determined David is concerned. At threat of being “reset” (essentially lobotomized) if he divulges his knowledge of their existence, he sets out to deter the ubiquitous Adjustment Bureau from extinguishing love’s flame. Elise is flummoxed.

What’s a gal to think? He calls and then he doesn’t…sometimes for curiously long periods of time. Only we know he’s fighting the good fight, trying to outsmart these grim intercessors. Suffice it to note, it’s not easy if your adversary is the sort of fellow who can walk through a door on a skyscraper roof and wind up on the grass at Yankee Stadium.

Historically, we loyal supporters of all things good have backed every manner of heroic combatant. But hey, this is fate itself David is challenging. What’s more, the enemy stoops to tantalizing him with hints of a great political future if he ceases and desists. But let’s not be too quick to sell us humans short. Bear in mind, we have a secret weapon.

I mean, we wouldn’t want to call the songwriter who said, “Love is a many-splendored thing” a liar. He did win the Oscar in 1955. And let’s not forget the Virgil-attributed “Love conquers all.” We’re either a bunch of babbling idiots or there’s something to this love stuff we’ve been spouting. Now is as good time as any to see if it’s true.

I’m all for love, in movies and real life, even if I am at times hard-pressed to differentiate between the two mediums. However, the most important qualification to accepting that show of affection is in being convinced that it’s entirely genuine. And in the case of “The Adjustment Bureau,” it is apparent Damon and Co. aren’t just pulling our heartstrings.

So, like ardent fans out to see their team win, we don our idealistic attitude and cheer: “Let’s go free will, let’s go free will! Boo predestination! We can love anyone we want, when we want! Hooray right brain thinking!” Gosh. The very idea of what it means to be human depends on how our young lovers fare. Psst. We may have an ally.

While all the mystery men are superbly portrayed, the Bureau’s Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) doesn’t seem quite as anal as company wonk Richardson (John Slattery) or hatchet man Thompson (Terence Stamp). Think Claude Rains’s Captain Renault to Bogey’s Rick or Henry Travers’s Clarence to Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey.

Caution is urged. Strict constructionists who didn’t do enough finger painting in kindergarten may find their sense of order upset by the imaginative mix of adventure and romanticism. But for those who believe that the best things in life result when you dare color outside the lines, seeing “The Adjustment Bureau” should definitely be in the cards.

“The Adjustment Bureau,” rated PG-13, is a Universal Pictures release directed by George Nolfi and stars Emily Blunt, Matt Damon and Anthony Mackie. Running time: 106 minutes

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