Monday, March 7, 2011

Matt In The Hat

If, like me, you're a fan of the science fiction author Philip K. Dick then you know that many movies have been made based on his work. You also know that most of those movies were radically altered and some are barely recognizable adaptations of their source material. And you know what? I'm fine with that. No, really. I merely have to tell myself beforehand that the movie and the story it was based on are two completely different products and that one really doesn't have anything to do with the other. Case in point: Dick's Adjustment Team really doesn't have that much to do with Matt Damon's new movie The Adjustment Bureau.

Oh sure, they each have supernatural beings who go around making sure the timeline goes according to some preconceived plan but it's no longer about some unlucky insurance salesman who accidentally discovers this. The movie concerns a candidate for the U.S. Senate named David Norris and the story reminds me a lot of a Harlan Ellison story. You've probably seen the Star Trek episode City On The Edge of Forever in which Kirk goes back in time and falls in love with a woman who was supposed to die. In the version we all know, Kirk sacrifices the woman he loves in order to correct history and save the future but, in Ellison's original version, Kirk said the hell with it and decided to make sure she lived and it was Spock who made sure that he failed to do so. Matt Damon's character follows a similar track.

The movie begins on the night David Norris loses his first attempt to become a Senator due mainly to pictures of him mooning his recent college reunion. A chance meeting with a dark haired English woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) in a bathroom inspires him to make a memorable concession speech that is talked about for years and creates enough voter goodwill to make a future run possible. What he doesn't know is that this was not a chance meeting but was engineered by a hidden force called...oh hell, you know what it's called. The two most prominent members, at least at first, are Richardson (Mad Men's John Slattery) and Harry (Hurt Locker actor Anthony Mackie). Richardson is a cool headed, by the book kind of guy who does what he's told and seems fine with it but Harry seems on the verge of a major burnout. He's been "adjusting" David's future for a very long time now and, in that time, he's done some very bad stuff. This causes him to be so world weary that he fails in a crucial mission three years later in which he was merely supposed to make sure David spilled his coffee. His failure means that something happened that wasn't supposed to happen. David again met the woman who inspired him. The plan is that they were never again supposed to meet and yet, here they are, talking and joking and forming a strong, mutual attraction. Even worse, David stumbled in and actually witnessed the Adjustment Bureau as they were changing the thoughts of work colleague so that said colleague would agree with David in an important decision.

Things go bad for both the Bureau and David. David seems to have the upper hand at first as he defies the Bureau but they remind him that they are more or less all powerful. At first, they make a convincing argument to David as to why he should stay away from Elise but, eventually, he decides his love for her is more important than any sort of Divine Plan for the human race. With Harry's help, he steals one of the magic hats that allows the Bureau to move through mystical doorways and goes up against the guardians of time itself.

I know I'm not supposed to say this but I like the movie better than the story. The story is meant to be a clever little tale of some guy who sees what he's not supposed to. The movie is a more ambitious and passionate story of a man and woman risking everything for something so simple as true love. The Adjustment Bureau is not a great movie but it's a pretty good one. I hope Philip K. Dick would approve. The most likely possibility is that he would make so much money off the deal that he wouldn't care and that's fine too.

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