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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sci-fi romance that's one part Philip K. Dick but three parts Stairway To Heaven, February 26, 2012
This review is from: The Adjustment Bureau (DVD)
The Adjustment Bureau, directed by George Nolfi and starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, is something of a rarity - a romance movie within a sci-fi setting that actually works. The reason for this is that while The Adjustment Bureau is nominally based on a short story - "The Adjustment Team" - by Philip K. Dick, at its heart its true roots are to be found in Michael Powell's 1946 romantic fantasy film Stairway To Heaven (also known by its original UK title A Matter Of Life And Death), where two people who meet by chance and fall in love must deal with divine powers bent on seperating them.

A rising young New York politician, David Norris (Matt Damon), on election night of his first senate bid, has a chance meeting with a young dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) that changes his life. But unfortunately he comes away from the encounter with only her first name and nothing else, leaving him no way of finding her. One morning, a short time later, we become aware that a group of men, all wearing hats, seem to be taking a strange interest in Norris. One of them, who goes by the name of Harry (Anthony Mackie), has been given the strange assignment of making sure Norris spills his coffee on himself by 7:05AM. Things, however, do not go as planned, and as a result, two things happen: (1) Norris runs into Elise on the bus, this time getting her phone number, and (2) Norris inadvertently stumbles across the existence of the Men In Hats in the act of manipulating events in his life. And is told by them that he must never reveal what he has learned to anyone, and that he must never see Elise again because it's not part of their plan for him. And because seeing her will not only ruin their plans for him, it'll ruin the bright future they have planned for her as well.

The cast is excellent and is a large part of what makes The Adjustment Bureau work. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt project a believable chemistry of two people who from the first moment know they were always meant to be together. John Slattery (best known from TV's Mad Men) is perfect as Richardson, the officious leader of the team of agents managing Norris' life. Terrence Stamp is marvelous as always as Thompson, the hard-nosed trouble shooter nicknamed "The Hammer" who is brought in when things really go awry. But it is Anthony Mackie who gives the movie a lot of its heart as Harry, the low-key agent with doubts about the plan. Mackie never raises his voice, never lets Harry's feelings show on his face, but conveys everything with his subtly expressive eyes.

There are also a host of cameos of public figures from the political and media arenas, meant I suppose to make things more realistic, but in truth they're incidental, particularly in a film like this where a good deal of suspension of disbelief is necessary. Still, some people will have fun seeing how many they can spot. I counted at least eight.

As enjoyable as The Adjustment Bureau is, it does require certain periodic suspensions of disbelief which I cannot dwell on without revealing certain parts of the plot. And while it does at least toy with questions of free-will vs predestined fate, in the end it is a romance story and does opt for the ending that most easily satisfies. It might have been a deeper, more complex movie if Nolfi had had Norris make a less conventional choice, either choosing to stay with the plan the Men In Hats have laid out for him, giving up love for career, or sacrificing his own chance at happiness so that Elise can have the grand career he knows is awaiting her.

Anyone who has seen Stairway To Heaven will instinctively know how this all turns out. Highly recommended for anyone who loves a good love-conquers-all romance story set in a very different reality from the one we know.
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Location: Cambridge, MA United States

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,009