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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Adjustment Bureau

Sci-fi parable about free will and fate

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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March 6, 2011 -- “The Adjustment Bureau” packs a little of everything into an entertaining package, love story, mystery, action and discussion about free will and fate. Some have compared it to last year's hit movie “Inception” but it is more like “Wings of Desire,” with the angels wearing hats and meddling in human affairs in tune of a master plan written by some higher power.

One of these angels, Thompson (played by Terrence Stamp of “The Limey”) explains to the troublesome main character, David Norris (played by Matt Damon of the “Bourne” movies) why his life is being interfered with. Thompson said when humans were left to themselves, it led to the dark ages and two world wars. Thompson tells David humans need to be guided so they won't destroy themselves. He is trying to persuade David to abandon his romantic interest in a woman he barely knows, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt of “The Young Victoria”). Thompson tells David that if he winds up with Elise, the relationship will ruin his political career and her career as a dancer. Another of these angels (he calls himself a case worker) who sympathizes with the humans, Harry Mitchell (played by Anthony Mackie of “Night Catches Us”) doesn't like what the grand plan has done to David, or David's family over the years. He decides to help David and Elise, despite what the plan calls for.

While Thompson clearly believes, to paraphrase Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” that what happens to two people in this crazy world doesn't amount to a hill of beans, at least when it comes to disrupting the master plan. Harry, on the other hand, feels that love is more important, despite the plan's goal of promoting the greater good. It was Harry who inadvertently set this whole conflict in motion when he failed an assignment to prevent David from meeting Elise on a bus on his way to work one fateful day. It turned out that David and Elise were fated to meet because of an earlier iteration of the plan that had long since been changed, but had left “ripples” in the space-time continuum, as it were. The fate of David and Elise is thus tied to a conflict between two versions of the master plan. Thompson keeps telling David he has no free will, but David can't really believe that. He needs to believe, as we all do, that he can still make choices in his own life that really matter.

Even though I have been referring to them as angels, they could just as easily be something else. The story is based on the writings of famed science fiction author Philip K. Dick, whose stories have been made into nine films, including “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report,” so the angels could be time travelers from the future whose technology is so advanced it seems like magic. Indeed, these mysterious agents seem very similar to the “observers” in the TV series “Fringe.” The movie doesn't really go into much detail about these agents, nor does it need to. This is a love story. The mechanics of how and why these agents do what they do is no more important to the story than how angels become human in “Wings of Desire.” Unlike “Inception” this movie doesn't load you down with a lot of “rules,” although there are a few, like those hats, which aid transport, and water, which blocks certain powers. Also, it is lighter in tone than “Inception,” with a lot more humor in it, although not as much humor as the similarly-themed Danny Boyle film about lovers, angels and adventure, “A Life Less Ordinary.” This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2011 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)