The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

(In theaters, March 2010) At first, this umpteenth adaption of Philip K. Dick’s work seems to be following the usual template: Grab an idea from the Dick short story cupboard and expand it in a middle-of-the-road science-fiction film.  The premise seems shaky at first, with too many unanswered questions and plot holes to be wholly convincing: There’s a stretch between the way the film convincingly presents modern politics and the hazy nature of its deviation from reality.  Matt Damon is fine, but the film itself seems wobbly.  Things then get quite a bit better during the second half, as the film’s overall fable-like atmosphere becomes more comfortable, as some of the haziness disappears, and as the film starts playing off the elements of its setup.  Damon makes for a sympathetic hero and the film keeps its wilder reality-bending sequences for a third-act climactic chase sequence all around New York landmarks.  At the same time, the temporal jumps in the plotting allow for some heavier meditations on the nature of fate, choices, happenstance and predestination.  While the result still isn’t as seamless as one could wish for, The Adjustment Bureau ends up being a reasonably effective Science Fiction film, one that surprisingly cares more about romance and drama than death and violence (in terms of violence, the film only features two car accidents, none of them fatal and the second of them handled with a great deal of compassion for the wounded victim).  Writer/director George Nolfi manages to bring a lot to Dick’s sketchy short story, and while the result doesn’t achieve its full potential, it’s good enough not to embarrass anyone, especially not its audience.  It’s not a disservice to anyone to lump it with the slew of other good low-key science-fiction films (also; Never Let Me Go) that recently appeared on-screen.

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