Friday 1 April 2011

A-dJust-Ment to say I love you...

The Adjustment Bureau
2011 USA
Directed by George Nolfi
Now playing
at UK cinemas.

Philip K. Dick is not the easiest person to adapt for the moving image... actually, scratch that, I’ll rephrase that last little, perhaps obvious, statement and see if I can’t hint at the real problem with this idea here.

Ready? Here goes...

Philip K. Dick is not the easiest person to adapt for the moving image when the main concerns of that moving image are to provide spectacular special effects and kinetic action to the youngest possible audience imaginable.

There... that did it.

Philip K. Dick is very much a concept man and I think the reason his work has gotten to be a hot property in an age where his stories could be told more credibly with modern technology is because what he really does is talk about small ideas about people and their relationships with each other in a sci-fi milieu which allows him to explore those ideas to a degree unavailable to him in a more vanilla genre of fiction (although I loved his unpublished until after his death, early serious non-sci-fi novels as much, if not more, than his more recognised body of work... it has to be said). Of course... once those little conceptual nuggets are mined by the screenwriters, the evil, money-grabbing circus that is “Modern Hollywoodland” then wants to add action and scope and epicness into the mix... something that really is kinda missing the point with Dick’s work. His stories were always about being human... Hollywood is all about “Kablaam and Dollars” (Hmm... Kablaam and Dollars. Think I’ll run with that at some point).

Subsequently his works are, more than often, quite heavily changed for their big screen counterparts. Screamers is probably the closest to its source material (the short story Second Variety) but even the classic (and in my book, greatest) Phil K. Dick inspired movie Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) proves that you can take the kernel of Dick’s ideas and run with them in a slightly different direction but still have something which is very much in the style of Philip K. Dick. But if you’re not careful, the director and writers will completely miss the point and the humour of the original story, as they did with the mind-numbingly awful Total Recall ("loosely" based on We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) and turn in a movie which is just so much brainless drivel (and I’d expect better from Veerhoven!).

I’m very glad to report, however, that George Nolfi’s big screen version of Dick’s short story Adjustment Team is one of those movies that, while changing pretty much all the window dressing on the story (married salesman becomes single, successful political candidate) the main premise and, basically, the soul of Philip K. Dick's idea is very much adhered to throughout the course of the story.

Not only is it adhered to, but Nolfi’s lightness of touch with the characters and their brilliant portrayal on screen as played by a whole group of brilliant actors top lined by Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Terence Stamp (greatly supported by some really sparkling character actors who I hope will get bigger roles as time goes by... serious kudos to John Slattery and Anthony Mackie who really carry the humour and gravitas of the movie off in wonderful ways) actually pushes the humanity even more into the foreground than Dick went in this particular story and ensures that this film is, essentially, all about love. And like all good stories of that nature... it all hinges on... a kiss.

Interestingly, while the Adjustment Team of the story were definitely “sci-fi” in the strictest sense, Nolfi (who also wrote and produced this movie) has left the hardcore workings of The Adjustment Bureau a little more up in the air so it can also, depending on the personal interpretation of various audience members, stand up to theological ideas and concepts of God and angels but without ramming that possibility down the throats of any atheist or agnostic sections of the audience. This is a nice touch in that it can mean all things to all people.

There’s even an ending which suggests the powers that be are as much a part of their plan and can hence be rewritten, just as much as the population of our planet who are all part of “The Plan” without really knowing it.

Sure, there are a couple of plot holes and mis-steps along the way and despite a “magical” foot chase towards the end of the movie, this film probably won’t get many repeat viewings for action buffs (I doubt this is the movie Hollywood were expecting or wanting, to be honest) and so I’m not expecting it to do particularly well at the box office... but for all that this movie is an honest to goodness love story which feels like the real deal (despite the little on-screen time the two lovers have together).

If you like simple love stories wrapped up in a little bit of sci-fi and a little bit of magic... then you won’t be putting a step wrong if you go take a look at this movie. Well done ot the director and I hope he gets another directing gig soonest. If not... something, somewhere needs a little adjustment, perhaps?


  1. Fantastic opener. You hit the nail on the head, as they say. Dick's stories are so much more than glitzy special effects, but every once in a while a director agrees to let the heart in as well as the crazy alternative universe ideas. Glad this one at least attempts to take that approach.

  2. Hey there Bucko.

    Yeah... heart and soul can go a long way, especially with this particular viewer.

  3. I went into this thinking it was a spy movie. I didn't think it was all gonna hinge on this couple who just needs to be together. I didn't buy the story in that respect. As for the sci-fi bureau angle, it was only by chance that I re-watched "Wings of Desire" the day after and found myself loving "Wings" more (after a 20 year gap) and really not liking "Bureau" at all.

  4. Yeah... you lack romance.

    If you want to see how Bruno Ganz is looking all these years later then check out Unknown... but that's NOT a recommendation for that particular movie.