Sunday, March 13, 2011

Adjust This

In "The Adjustment Bureau," the better angels of our nature are a bunch of busybodies who are so overworked that they're not always thinking straight. Starring the winning Matt Damon and Emily Blunt as a meant-for-each-other politician and choreographer, the movie proposes that a Godhead called the Chairman has decided he can't trust us with free will, since look what he gets whenever he tries -- the dark ages, world wars, and "Jersey Shore." So waxing Calvinist, the Chairman sends men in hats to follow us around.

They monitor our step-by-step life plans on their version 3475.0 Kindles and nudge us back on course when we stray, whereupon the story briefly though not fatally swerves into a narrative ditch. The Chairman, who has high hopes for the principled young congressman from Brooklyn, doesn't want Damon's character to marry Blunt's, because true love will stifle his ambition by filling the hole in his heart left by the deaths of his parents and brother. And yet you'd think that if the Chairman wanted a better world, he'd put well-balanced people in power.

There's a hint of an earlier presidential project. According to the story, which opens on the night in November 2006 when Damon's character loses his first senatorial race, the cherubim cum chapeaux had last revealed their existence to someone code-named Taurus 40 years before. The politician beginning his fabled comeback in 1966 was Richard Nixon. While my wife, Kathy, his last chief of staff, asked him about UFOs once, we never saw any middle-aged angels in suits lurking around -- unless they were impersonating Secret Service agents. No hats, but they did wear earplugs and talk into their sleeves. So much for the inevitable Nixon angle, but what about the placeholder for Jesus Christ? Easy, since a ranking deputy angel reveals that the Chairman had decided to trust humanity with free will "at the height of the Roman Empire."

Written (based on a Philip K. Dick short story) and directed by George Nolfi, the movie's delightfully watchable and suspenseful from its first moments. An affable, intelligent script, well-executed cameos by Jon Stewart, Carville-Matalin, and Michael Bloomberg, and Damon's believability as an up-from-the-streets politician lend the story just enough credibility to withstand the sci-fi preposterousness. Damon himself poses the key theodical question when he taunts one of the angels for not doing a better job easing the world's injustice and suffering. "You're still here, aren't you?" the seraph says sullenly.

Damon has better chemistry with his charming co-star, who must've been practicing modern dance at the same time Natalie Portman was strapping on her toe shoes. All their scenes are spot on. I hope someone casts them together again. Only near the end, after Damon had to put on one of those goofy hats and he and Blunt were getting the big reveal, did I have the impression that she was having trouble keeping a straight face.


J.C. Marrero said...

"Cleared his throat and changed the subject"--wow, that is suggestive. If there is something about the UFO claims that is known to our presidents, why the need for secrecy and would all of them have to pledge silence?

Fr. John said...

Thanks, Juan. At the time, Kathy (although herself an aficionado of little green men) interpreted Nixon's reaction as one designed to save her the embarrassment of realizing that the boss felt she had briefly taken leave of her senses.