The Adjustment Bureau is the best movie I’ve seen based on a Philip K. Dick story. Yeah, I went there.
I haven’t read the story it was based on, but the synopsis provided by Wikipedia suggests that there’s little in common with the movie apart from the most basic premise. And it’s not particularly surprising that Dick in 1954 wrote a story of existential dread, while Hollywood in 2011 made a love story with undertones of a mediation on free will. It may be an example of a new genre: the romantic thriller.
The movie is significantly more grounded, a little less imaginative, and a lot less European than Wings of Desire, but I thought there were a lot of similarities. Angels working behind the scenes — I’m a total sucker for a setup like this, especially when there’s a glaze of old-fashioned sentimentality over the whole thing.
And the romance actually works. The angels in fedoras [note: they’re not overly explicitly called angels in the film] are a neat enough visual, but the movie really depends on the chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. It really works, and it feels genuine. Even Soderberghian.
Something I’d never quite realized about romantic comedies or dramas in the past: in almost all of them, you’re rooting for the relationship because you like the characters. (Or they’re bland enough that you can project whatever personality you like onto them). But while I wasn’t particularly charmed by either of the main characters in The Adjustment Bureau, I was charmed by their banter with each other. So it’s the kind of couple that you really want to see get together, and then go away and never hang out with you.
Also of note: the movie couldn’t quite decide whether to use John Slattery or Terrence Stamp, so it cast them both. Weird.
Last week my friend Matt Dessem linked to an article by Mark Harris in GQ titled “The Day the Movies Died”, which complains how animation and movies based on comic books are both catering to and perpetuating a market of young males in a constant state of arrested development. As a result, Hollywood has killed the adult drama and, by extension, the entire film industry.
I’ve got more problems with that article than I have time to cover now. All I’ll say is that a movie like this is a perfect example of how the article misses the point. Harris sees a rigidly divided hierarchy of media, in which the highest tier of cinema is being overrun with infantilizing man-child fantasies, driving intelligent films to the wastelands of premium or even basic cable. I see a billion different media channels fighting for my attention, each capable of its own highs and lows. It’s a pretty significant investment to make the trip to a theater except for the spectacle that only a huge screen and overpriced concessions can provide. I’m not paying ten bucks plus parking to see The Kids Are All Right if I can get the whole explosion-free experience on my TV screen.
The Adjustment Bureau isn’t cinéma vérité, but it’s a novel idea that doesn’t patronize the audience, and it’s not overloaded with effects. In terms of fantastic visuals, it’s about on par with an AT&T commercial. But it is the type of story that’s improved by seeing it in a theater. Show me more of that, and I’ll keep making the trip, even without 3D or IMAX.