What's the opposite of Free Will?
When did parking garages become the only place for passing information, attempted assassinations, and other nasty goings-on in the movies? Well, that's easy – it was when when Bob Woodward met Deep Throat in an underground garage in Arlington, Virginia in 1972, which led to a huge political upset that we're still feeling.
Boston-born Princetonian (summa) George Nolfi, who frequently utilizes the parking garage image in his new movie, is not a hugely well-known name in Hollywood. He's worked on a few popular flicks as a writer (Ocean's Twelve, Bourne Ultimatum) but The Adjustment Bureau is his first solo outing as a director. And actually, it's not bad – worth an hour and forty minutes of your time, no matter how you feel about Fate and those spur-of-the-minute decisions to run out for pizza.
Nolfi's first movie is based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick, one of the deans of American Science Fiction. Many of his stories have been adapted for film, including “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which turned into the perennially popular Blade Runner. But this particular story is more like a fable from Dick in his theological mode. (Many SF authors wrestle with religion; have you read “Dune”?) Nolfi has, predictably, jerked Dick's story around, but the result isn't bad, and not for the reasons you might think.
David Norris (Matt Damon) is a young politician who loses his bid for the US Senate because of a youthful prank that gets printed by the New York Post (New York Post! New York Post! Sex and death with your morning toast!), so he takes a a job in the private sector. It's only after he runs into Elise (Emily Blunt) again on a bus, after an initial smooch in the Waldorf mens' room (don't ask) that he realizes something's going on.
It all has to do with the guys in dark suits and fedoras that are shadowing everybody on earth (so that's where half of the 7 billion people came from) to make sure that everything works out according to The Plan.
Turns out that David is destined to be President of the US and save the world, but only if he doesn't hook up with Elise, this specific ballet dancer.
Unlike Natalie Portman, Emily Blunt has obviously never trained as a dancer (her extensions are dreadful) but in every other way she's the perfect heroine: she's gorgeous, she's vulnerable, and she has huge eyes she never takes off Matt Damon, which is what makes the movie work.
What makes the plot work is an Agent (can we call them Angels? Hmm...) named Harry, played by the suave Anthony Mackie, who has pity on Norris and lets slip bits of information, and hands him a hat that lets him get through all the Doors, which get you from Uptown to Downtown. (Why don't they get you to Sweden, or Bali?) The chase through the Doors leads, natch, to the Conclusion, and it's up to you to decide if it's profound, sappy, trite or happy. I'd tell you, but that's not my job.
The whole Free-Will-versus-Fate argument is delineated by an Agent called The Hammer, played by the acidic Terence Stamp, who explains how, whenever they backed off, we got the Dark Ages and a couple of World Wars.
It's a rather 1950s Science Fiction kind of thing (though Dick – and Star Trek – had some pretty good variants), but what sets this new movie apart is the chemistry of the stars. No matter what the ultimate fate of the couple is, you're going to root for them because they're both cute and good looking, and they deserve to be together, no matter what the angels say.
Emily Blunt has been around barely longer than George Nolfi, but I predict she's going to have a huge career. After “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Young Victoria” she has proved, as she does again here, that she has the biggest eyes in the industry. Not only that, but she knows what to do with them. Watch her in this movie, and see if she ever takes her eyes off Matt Damon. The answer would be no, and we should all be so lucky.