More from Sen­a­tor Nor­ris, please

This star-pow­ered, mind-bend­ing thriller is a pure cin­e­matic de­light, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

IF EVER A writer had cause to rise up from the grave and make zom­bie chow out of film-mak­ers, it’s Philip K Dick. We might point at the source ma­te­rial and find fault; there are more than a few unlovely sen­tences across the au­thor’s 44 nov­els, and some of the later hard­core psychedelic pas­sages don’t seem to make a lick of sense. But no­body as con­cep­tu­ally daz­zling as PKD should wind up on the cred­its of To­tal Re­call (dumb) or Next (dum­ber) or Pay­check (dum­berer).

An ideas man, the writer’s screwy and pro­lific flair for science fic­tion ought to have in­spired an en­tire sub­genre of su­pe­rior spe­cial ef­fects bo­nan­zas. In­stead, Dick movies sel­dom have more wit than, well, dick movies. Nine out ev­ery 10 elec­tric sheep are agreed: all 23 ver­sions of Blade Run­ner are the busi­ness, and Richard Lin­klater’s A Scan­ner Darkly is a stone groove. The rest is noise.

The Ad­just­ment Bu­reau presents a pe­cu­liar case. No­body could say that de­but­ing di­rec­tor Ge­orge Nolfi’s adap­ta­tion of this for­got­ten short story (an or­phan tale with­out a copy­right holder) is slav­ishly faith­ful to the corny cold war orig­i­nal. But Nolfi has found a taut, pleas­ing movie with­out man­gling the au­thor’s neat pri­mary con­ceit.

As the film, opens US Se­nate hopeful David Nor­ris (Matt Da­mon: no, re­ally, that’s the char­ac­ter’s name) has just blown a mas­sive lead in the polls when he bumps into Elise (Emily Blunt), an en­dear­ingly sweary bal­le­rina. Sparks fly, a re­ac­tion that in­spires a le­gion of tem­po­ral agents to take ac­tion. So far as these karma po­lice – “An­gels? You have many names for us” – are con­cerned, Da­mon and Blunt must be kept apart de­spite their blaz­ing on­screen chem­istry.

Can our star-crossed lovers out­run and out­smart their oth­er­worldly pur­sur­ers? Will Harry Mitchell (Antony Mackie), the agent who has spent years watch­ing over Nor­ris, go against the grand plan to help out his long­time charge? And are we to un­der­stand that Ter­ence Stamp is God’s boot boy?

It’s not sur­pris­ing that wri­ter­di­rec­tor Nolfi, who co-authored the screen­play for The Bourne Ul­ti­ma­tum, man­u­fac­tures a fre­netic com­mo­tion that could be sub­ti­tled Bourne vs Uni­verse. As time trav­el­ling, sci-fi, rom-dram ac­tion­ers go, The Ad­just­ment Bu­reau fits snugly be­tween Eter­nal Sun­shine of the Spot­less Mind and Wings of De­sire, far, far away from the fag end of the genre where they keep The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton.

Watch it again and Nolfi’s film takes on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a benev­o­lent reprise of The Par­al­lax View. Look over there: its Jon Ste­wart play­ing him­self; over here we find James Carville and Mary Matalin. This is a pic­ture with de­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal, meta­phys­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal edges, cun­ningly dis­guised as a re­lent­less postIn­cep­tion hunt-’em-down. A fi­nal thrilling de­noue­ment re­quir­ing the wear­ing of hats is a show­stop­per.

Blunt and Da­mon dance a deft two-step as the re­peat­edly thwarted ro­man­tics. They suit one an­other; both in­cline to­ward nat­u­ral rhythms and de­cep­tive un­der­state­ment un­til bam! they raise an eye­brow or flash you with a dis­arm­ing movie star smile. It re­quires all of their col­lec­tive charms to pre­vent Mackie from mak­ing off with the pic­ture. The ac­tor’s worn, doubt­ing bu­reau­crat is a con­sis­tent de­light.

Who knew they still made block­busters like this? More Sen­a­tor David Nor­ris pic­tures, please.


Sparks ig­nite: Emily Blunt and Matt Da­mon in The Ad­just­ment Bu­reau

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