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With: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Anthony Ruivivar, Terence Stamp, Michael Kelly, James Carville, Jon Stewart
Written by: George Nolfi, based on a story by Philip K. Dick
Directed by: George Nolfi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image
Running Time: 105
Date: 02/26/2011

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Doors of Perception

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

What a wealth of material Philip K. Dick has created, and so far less than ten films have been made from his books and stories. Sure, they're all mostly chase stories but they're chase stories based around the most amazing and breathtaking of ideas. I'm tempted to rank The Adjustment Bureau as one of my top favorites -- up there with Minority Report and Blade Runner -- simply because it's brave enough to be a bit loopy, and to hang its entire emotional throughline on a passionate romance.

Matt Damon stars as David Norris, a young politician and a hopeful as a New York senator. After a failed bid for office, he meets a woman, a dancer, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). They have an intriguing talk, share a kiss, and she's gone. Many months later, David happens to run into her on a bus. This time he gets her phone number. Unfortunately, something else is going on. A secret agent in a hat, Harry (Anthony Mackie) was charged with keeping David from getting on that bus, and when he fails, a full-blown chase is launched.

Several men in hats kidnap David and tell him about the whole plan: nothing in the world happens by chance. Everything is preordained, and these men in hats are there to give things a little nudge from time to time. David and Elise were never supposed to meet, and that's that. They seize the phone number and destroy it. But David won't give up. Much later, he runs into Elise a third time and is determined to hang onto her at any cost.

Two things drive The Adjustment Bureau. One is that David and Elise have terrific chemistry and there's no question that they are breathlessly in love. That's the oldest and best thing to root for in a movie: for two good souls to fall in love and get the chance to be together. On top of that, the movie presents the mystery of the men in hats. Who are they? How much power do they have? How do they do those cool tricks with the doors?

These twin engines send the movie speeding along at a perfect clip. At the same time, director George Nolfi -- a good screenwriter making his directorial debut -- realizes and embraces the silliness in such an idea. Too much of the sci-fi genre is too deadly serious, and Nolfi knows that it's possible to have fun here. The mysterious men in hats are given bits of frustrated, jaded dialogue to say, making them all the more human; they're more like servants, just trying to do their jobs than they are nasty villains trying to take over the world. The very image of the hats provides some wonderfully knowing moments, and the handling of Terence Stamp during the movie's third act is enough to indicate that Nolfi knows what he's doing.

Nofli, who co-wrote the equally pulpy Timeline (2003), as well as Ocean's Twelve (2004), The Sentinel (2006), and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), already has a firm grip on factors like pace and clarity; he uses his effects wisely and without overwhelming the story. But what I came away with is the swooning satisfaction of a romance that has clicked into place. That part of the movie is genuine, daring, and -- yes -- a bit loopy. But you can't talk about it without smiling.

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