The Adjustment Bureau

Author Philip K. Dick’s influence over movie-making still lingers nearly 30 years after his passing.  With films either adapted or inspired by his works such as Blade-runner and Total Recall, it’s easy to see why his unique futuristic vision has transcended the decades. The Adjustment Bureau is the latest to benefit from his masterly authorship, with its reliance on today’s technological advances finally catching up with his striking imagination.

U.S. Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) seems destined for greatness.  Marked for political stardom, his organisational skills have kept his career in good stead.  When he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a dancer, his structured life suddenly turns awry.  Prevented from beginning a romance with her by a mysterious group, he sets out to uncover why.  The answer leaves him shaken as he discovers he is part of a bigger puzzle from which there is little escape.

One can certainly see the abundance of ideas Philip K. Dick was renowned for in The Adjustment Bureau.  An allegory on the notion of free-will and fate, his short-story set out to explain how a person is truly in charge of their destiny.  It’s incredible to think how current his work is even though he passed away decades ago with this film interpreting his words reasonably well.  Whilst the mixture of romance and action isn’t the greatest the concepts it conveys are interesting to ponder.

A reason why this is only a mid-range adaptation is due to George Nolfi’s leaden direction.  He fails to fully embody the urgency or tragedy of the piece with his slack pacing occasionally stopping proceedings dead in their tracks.  Akin to watching a balloon deflating, a more robust vision was needed to bring the appropriate dynamic flavour to the intriguing story.  The leads are great however with Damon and Blunt showing genuine chemistry making their scenes come alive even if other areas do not.

There have been worse adaptations of Philip K. Dick’s stories, with The Adjustment Bureau perhaps not as good as it should have been.  Still engaging it is nice knowing works like these enable his writings to stay alive and keep his creative flame burning.

Rating out of 10:  6

The Company Men

Directed by the man who produced the best episodes of ER and The West Wing, John Wells’ The Company Men explores the notion of identity.  In this case it’s the professional and emotional satisfaction a group of men derive from their work.  Whether that’s a healthy way to live is a case for the viewer to decide, although this tale of re-discovering the person you are away from the daily grind provides an interesting insight in people’s ability to function outside of this apparent safety net.

Working in the high flying corporate world, friends Bobby (Ben Affleck), Phil (Chris Cooper) and Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) are going places.  Thinking their dream life will never end, they receive a shock when they’re cut loose during some workplace downsizing.  Forced to find other avenues to buttress their skills, they find life outside their comfort zone hard.  With the help of his brother in law Jack (Kevin Costner), Bobby and his friends try to win back the self-esteem and hope they thought was lost.

By delving into its personal impact Welles effectively adds to the growing ‘global financial crisis’ movie genre.  His focus on three men working at different professional levels enables him to show how unemployment affects everyone and how each deal with their changed situation.  Binding them is their sense of lost pride which, in the case of the men being the ‘family bread-winners ‘, is keenly felt.  That the company they work for quickly discards them in favour of maintaining their stock prices also ruins their perception their jobs were for life.

Even if it suffers from pacing issues and murky plotting, The Company Men excels in its casting.  Affleck, Cooper, and Jones are all first rate giving under-stated portrayals of men attempting to carve new lives.  Cooper in particular successfully conveys the demoralising impact unemployment can have and the need to avoid caving into despair.  Wisely the script mostly avoids the ‘corporate bashing’ route others have easily taken in favour of a more insular and authentic approach to examining changed familial dynamics.

Whilst The Company Men may provide uncomfortable viewing for those who have experienced the lows of sudden unemployment, it ultimately becomes a film about resilience.  It also provides a good debut vehicle for Wells and it will be interesting to see what he next offers to an eager new audience.

Rating out of 10:  7