If I were to say something about the cinema of 2011 so far, it would be that very few of the year’s highlights stand up to repeat viewing. However, I’d also posit that it’s been a good year for mainstream sci-fi.
Neil Burger’s Limitless and Duncan Jones’ Source Code both had modest but ambitious use of visual effects to tell the story, primarily focusing on characters rather than spectacle. And, with more in common with Source Code, George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau makes for a really memorable sci-fi romance that actually does stand up to repeat viewings.
Based on a Philip K. Dick short story called Adjustment Team, the film boasts a great performance from Matt Damon as a politician we can actually like and root for. His Congressman David Norris has just suffered an embarrassing electoral defeat when he bumps into a beautiful dancer, Elise.
The two immediately strike up an affectionate banter, and David is inspired to make a defiant concession speech that instantly makes him the frontrunner in the next election. David and Elise have another chance meeting the very next day, after which men in hats barge into David’s office.
The course of the future, they explain, is dependent on their intervention in humans’ free will, and Elise is all that stands between David and an incredible political career that could well put him in the White House. The trouble is, David and Elise are madly in love with one another, and David will do anything to fight fate and be with her.
Pushed back from late summer 2010 to March this year, the film benefited from being allowed to breathe at the box office, rather than being fired out into the world as counter-programming against The Expendables or Piranha 3D. Like Source Code and Limitless, it’s gateway sci-fi for less geeky viewers, but crucially, it’s a compelling romance.
Matt Damon and Emily Blunt give great performances by themselves, but they’re never more fantastic than when their characters are together. They have the most marvellous chemistry you’ve seen in a long, long time, and that’s what really sells the more outlandish elements of The Adjustment Bureau.
The story has echoes of A Matter Of Life And Death, in which David Niven and Kim Hunter have to prove their love to a higher power. The Adjustment Bureau is more atheistic in its representation of a higher power, which is not to say that it’s without belief, merely that it’s spiritual without being specific.
The vagaries of this setup are sometimes puzzling. Terence Stamp’s Thompson tells us that temporarily allowing people to have actual free will brought the Dark Ages, two world wars, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. It gives the work of this powerful and conservative organisation some sense of scale, but doesn’t allow for the atrocities that have occurred all over the world since then.
But the crucial likeness to the Powell and Pressburger classic is that no matter how big the stakes are, no matter how incredulous some of its world-buidling may be, it’s the human element between Damon and Blunt that allows it to soar.
It’s an enormously likeable film, with something to offer many different viewers, with its thoughtful passage between sci-fi parable and endearing romance. The balance is very well maintained, and the imagination of the film is a far cry from the simple-minded strapline of “Bourne Meets Inception“, trumpeted on the cover of this DVD.
Much like the film itself, the extras on this disc are modest, but thoughtful. The main feature comes with a commentary by George Nolfi, with a certain amount of insight from the perspective of the writer-director. As he’s on his own on this track, he occasionally falls silent for certain scenes, most notably in his enjoyment of David’s first meeting with Elise, and fair play to him. It’s a good scene, but maybe the track would have been more valuable with another contributor, like Damon or Blunt.
Both leads are present in the featurettes, however, the most interesting of which is Becoming Elise, which follows Blunt from persuading Nolfi to cast her in the film, through her training for the dance sequences in the film. It complements Blunt’s already strong performance by showing the sheer exertion and effort she put into learning how to dance like Elise, from scratch.
Another interesting feature, Leaping Through New York, shares some insight into the film’s grand location work, in which New York features as itself, rather than Vancouver or somewhere else. The featurette centres around visual effects in the film’s brilliant final chase sequence, while Destined To Be is a more general overview of the characters and the actors’ chemistry with one another.
Deleted and extended scenes round out the extras, and they’re perhaps most notable for their inclusion of a character who doesn’t appear in the film,an Adjustment Bureau bloke called Henderson, played by Lost‘s Daniel Dae Kim. In two scenes, it seems like his entire function is to patronise John Slattery, whose character is perpetually frustrated by David’s persistence.
Having heard about the film’s ending being re-shot, I had expected the alternate ending to show up amongst these scenes. It seems like a peculiar omission, but I’m not complaining about a package that complements one of the year’s most ambitious and likeable films so far.
You can rent or buy The Adjustment Bureau at Blockbuster.co.uk.