Matt Dick Hat Trick
You know, I have abandoned any real hope of romance, pretty much forsworn general
society, and more or less relinquished any genuine creative ambitions. And yet I still trip
hopefully along to the cinema every time a new adaptation of a Philip K Dick story comes
out, despite the knowledge that the track record in this area is somewhat regrettable. I
suppose I must be simply an incurable optimist.
The latest cause of this somewhat uncharacteristic behaviour is George Nolfi's
The Adjustment Bureau, which has arrived trailing the asking-for-trouble
slogan 'Bourne meets Inception'. I suspect at least half of this is due to the
presence in the leading role of Matt Damon. He plays up-and-coming politician David Norris,
whose career is experiencing a bit of a set-back. Then he has a brief encounter with faintly
kooky dancer Elise (Emily Blunt), who inspires him to revitalise his career.
Years later he meets her again, seemingly by chance. He is delighted – but almost
straight afterwards he encounters the peculiar agents of the titular Bureau. Possessed
of the power to warp reality, they have been charged with seeing the Plan is correctly
executed – basically, that everyone meets the correct destiny. Norris's destiny is rather
a prominent one – but Elise has no place in it, and their romance will not be tolerated.
Norris's protestations about this cut no ice and only the result in the assignation to his case
of the ruthless and implacable adjuster Thompson (Terence 'Kneel before Zod' Stamp)...
Is this movie really 'Bourne meets Inception'? No, of course not. It doesn't
have anything like the lethal edge or sophistication of either, nor at heart does it really
want them (I would suspect). Does that necessarily make it a bad movie? Well… no again.
It's polished and interesting and the leads are both very good. Attentive readers may recall
the unkind things I said about Matt Damon around the time of the first Bourne, but he has
grown on me considerably and is very good here. I admired Emily Blunt's performance in
My Summer of Love very much, and it's nice to see her getting on. In the early stages
of the film they work wonders to keep it grounded and credible.
This is particularly important, because as it goes on the movie gets progressively loopier
and more fantastical. There's a chase sequence involving a magic hat (no, really) that
almost seems to have been spliced in from a different picture entirely, but by this point
you're so invested in the characters you're prepared to cut the film some slack. Well – to
be completely honest you have to cut the film some slack right from the very start, but it
rewards this by being fun and rather quirky in an understated way.
The plot is ever so slightly repetitive – Damon and Blunt repeatedly meet but are
separated – and at times the film becomes a little trite and saccharine, particularly when
it comes to the handling of the adjusters and their agenda. Some of the time they're just
guys doing a job, in a way which rings very true with the Dick canon in general – but Norris
befriends one of them (played by Anthony Mackie) who info-dumps what's going on in
terms which manage to be bland and vague, but nevertheless suggestive of a feel-good
spiritual message. The film never attacks the issue of what the objective of the Plan is, or
what the real deal is with free will or the true nature of what's happening, opting instead for
a slick and fun romantic adventure with an almost literally deus ex machina ending.
It's not 'Bourne meets Inception' as much as 'The Matrix Reloaded
meets an above-average rom-com of your choice (with a dash of A Matter of Life and
Death thrown in)'.
So it's not a great movie, but it's more than passable entertainment. However, the fact
remains that it is based on a Phil Dick story. Cards on the table: I revere Philip K Dick. I think
his short stories in particular are mystifyingly, almost incomprehensibly brilliant – which
makes the fact that most of the movies based on his work are lousy all the harder to accept.
(No, I don't even like Blade Runner much.) I suppose it's partly because the short
stories, by virtue of their very nature, deliver a concentrated hit of intense, mind-rattling
weirdness. Blowing one of them up to the size of a full-length movie inevitably results in
them being diluted and conventionalised and implacably dumbed down.
The story on which The Adjustment Bureau is based, Adjustment Team, has had the crcp adapted out of it (as you will see should you check it out – being out-of-copyright, it's freely available in various places on t'internet) and in some ways the very freeness of the adaptation softens the blow. The movie retains some of the paranoia and existential oddness of the best of Dick, but you're not constantly reminded of the original story by character names or odd, fleeting plot elements (as in Total Recall, a particularly egregious offender). It's essentially Dick Lite, but that's better than no Dick at all, I suppose. And, as I said, on its own terms it's a good bet for a fun night out.