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The question of free will over the machinations of a higher power isnít a new subject. The bread and butter of philosophy professors everywhere, the prospect of fate versus self-determination has been debated for centuries in every medium. Are there outside forces controlling our destinies? Why exactly did we turn left when we couldíve turned right? In The Adjustment Bureau, one man is able to glimpse one possible theory of the whys and wherefores of human existence.

David Norris is a brash young politician with a motivated base ready to carry their Brooklyn-version Kennedy to victory.  Despite charming the media and pundits everywhere -- including Jon Stewart and Jesse Jackson -- the inglorious results of Davidís misspent youth emerge in the papers as an eleventh-hour surprise effectively puts the kibosh on his campaign.  The disappointment might have smarted a bit more had David not found some consolation in the Waldorf Astoria menís room.  Elise, a free-spirited wedding crasher overhears David practising his concession speech and inspires him to stay true to the message that roused his supporters.  One kiss and sheís off again, escaping the clutches of hotel security and out of his life.  Davidís return to the private sector is unencumbered by distraction, so much so he never notices that he is tailed by a legion of men in fedoras.  These fellows seem to know every detail about Davidís life and habits, and indeed seem to be magically manoeuvring circumstances around him like leading a rat through a trap.  Itís one chapeaued gentís tardiness with a seemingly minor scheduled intervention that throws a wrench into the plans of Team Fedora.  The missed interaction leads David to a chance meeting with the mysterious lady from Election Night.  That happy coincidence will wreak havoc on the itineraries of those men with hats.  In their hands, they hold The Plan. The Ever After.  The Grand Scheme. The Beginning and The End.  Their entire reason for being is to keep us lowly humans on track, running along the lines of the maps laid out in their ledgers with no deviation.  One swerve from the carefully set plan and the butterfly effect could threaten the entire planet.  So it goes with David and Elise, their happy little run-in, so meaningful to them both was never supposed to happen, and subsequently David is told the consequences are far more than either of them could ever imagine.  The Men With Hats make a deal with David; give up the girl and weíll leave her alone.  The ĎOr Elseí for David being a complete memory wipe or ďresetĒ and all his efforts to be with Elise will have been in vain. That works for about five minutes before the pair realise they canít live without each other, and with the help of the hat man in need of No-Doz that got them into this mess in the first place, fight heaven and earth to be together.

Loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Iíd not look too hard for any specific spiritual alliance here as the filmmakers work hard to make it as vague as possible. Neither God, Allah, Buddha, nor any other deity is specified and instead we have references to a ďChairmanĒ being at the top of all these schemes.  There is a vague resemblance to Wim Wenderís 1987 classic Wings of Desire in the interaction of the higher beings and humans, but only barely.  The deities here are never identified as angels and are more like the Japanese-issue shinigami so abundant in anime these days; supernatural beings keeping mankind in check and a balance in all things.  Theyíre basically celestial working stiffs.  The Bureau has traded wings for fedoras, which only make them stand out when walking in a group as they resemble some kind of Mad Men fan club (- an image not helped by the presence of John Slattery as the lead hat.).  Leads Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are adorable and carry off the slim premise with more depth than expected.  The aforementioned Slattery is wry and delivers most of the filmís humour.  The excellent Terence Stamp isnít around long enough as the scariest hat in town.  The special effects are a low-key wow, particularly the scenes featuring the doors placed throughout a richly-shot New York City accessible only to the fedora-wearing guardians allowing them transport them across huge distances all over town. Damon and Bluntís chase from City Hall, to the new Yankee Stadium, back to the top of the MetLife Building is seamless and fun to watch.

In the end, The Adjustment Bureau is a great date movie; what girl wouldnít want to meet the man who would stand up to God and all His angels -- sorry, The Chairman and his corporate drones -- for the woman he loves?  Thoroughly romantic and a flight of pure fantasy, though interesting in its considerations of what is fate and what is ours to decide.  There are far less entertaining ways to spend your weekend than at The Adjustment Bureau.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

March 4th, 2011

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Universal Pictures)

 

 

 

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