The age-old debate over fate vs. free will has been and always will be a tough theme to crack in any medium but with the benefits of modern filmmaking technology the theory can be explored in ways that Philip K. Dick never imagined. However when one relies too heavily on spectacle to tell a story a piece of cerebral science fiction can quickly become just another action extravaganza. In this day and age there’s a fine line between the two; The Matrix walked that tightrope with style and grace while Next never found its footing in the first place. Fortunately the precious work of novelist Dick has for the most part been treated with respect by Hollywood (the aforementioned Nic Cage dud notwithstanding) but that doesn’t necessarily mean movies based on his stories are completely faithful to his vision.
Case in point: George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau an adaptation of Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” The film stars Matt Damon as David Norris a successful businessman and rising political candidate who after a chance encounter with the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt) loses a crucial election. He happens to run into her on a Manhattan bus the following week before finding his office swarming with masked men who are “adjusting” everyone inside. Richardson (John Slattery) the man in charge captures Norris who unsuccessfully flees the scene after seeing behind “a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed” as the enigmatic figure puts it. From that point on Norris must live with the knowledge that he (and we for that matter) is not in control of his own life. Rather the choices he makes fit perfectly into “The Plan” that’s been written by “the Chairman”.
In relation to my earlier statement I have to say that Nolfi’s picture looks stunning but his natural urban aesthetic doesn’t overpower the story. Sleek contemporary production design and elegant costumes characterize the high-concept story and the wraithlike agents who shape our destinies. Topically we’re dealing with some heavy material but Nolfi and editor Jay Rabinowitz move the action along at a brisk pace that keeps you engaged and entertained without having to try. The film is properly proportioned as a chase thriller romantic adventure and sci-fi fantasy and thankfully no component overshadows another.
Setting the film in the world of politics and big business helps make its larger-than-life revelations a bit more accessible (as do appearances from Michael Bloomberg Jon Stewart and Chuck Scarborough) while providing sub-text about the corruption involved in elections and campaigns (there are conspicuous shades of The Manchurian Candidate in the movie) but the writer-director often tries too hard for broad appeal. For a film with existential implications as severe as they are here the dialogue is at times hokey and superficial. Dick’s source material is far more abstract and Nolfi for the sake of commercial success panders to the palette of soccer moms and mallrats.
What’s worse is his unwarranted exposition of the Bureau a shadowy organization whose major allure is anonymity. Some secrets are best kept and less can be so much more when crafting a mysterious atmosphere; Nolfi reaches that level of magnetic curiosity but squanders it as he reveals the truth about the Bureau and its grand scheme. On the other hand he brushes over the technical lingo between agents Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) McCrady (Anthony Ruivivar) and others without explanation perhaps hoping that the ambiguous terminology will fool you into thinking that his script is smarter than it really is.
Even though Nolfi’s allegorical conclusions are uncomfortably ham-fisted the chemistry between Damon and Blunt alone is enough to enchant you; this is one highly watchable cinematic pairing that should be revisited as soon as possible. Their innocent relationship blossoms organically and together they make it seem as natural on screen as it is for their star-crossed characters. Even if you have a hard time believing in higher powers or manipulative Orwellian forces you’ll have faith in David and Elise’s fated relationship one of the most captivating couplings I’ve seen on the big-screen in some time.
November 08, 2002 7:57am EST
In his feature film debut Eminem is Jimmy Smith Jr. a poor aspiring rapper living in a trailer park on Detroit's 8 Mile Rd.--the city's perimeter road which separates it from the 'burbs or more specifically the blacks from the whites. After breaking up with his girlfriend Janeane (Taryn Manning) Jimmy nicknamed "Rabbit " heads back to the trailer park to live with his mom (Kim Basinger) a lush with a penchant for bingo. He gets a day job in a factory so he can save enough money to get back on his feet but at night heads to the Shelter a hip-hop club where the city's best rappers "battle" each other in 45-second rounds of verbally abusive rhymes. Even though his friends including Shelter MC Future (Mekhi Phifer) believe in him Rabbit suffers stage fright and freezes like a deer in the headlights when it comes to competition time. But he realizes his entire future--and getting out of Detroit--rests on making it in the hip-hop world and cutting his own demo. To do so Rabbit must first find his voice and win a coveted battle. The battles whether you like hip-hop or not are worth the price of admission alone.
According to Eminem whose real name is Marshall Mathers III this film is part real and part made-up. But his character gets a complete Hollywood makeover here and it's glaringly easy to discern fact from fiction. 8 Mile's Rabbit for example is concerned with gun violence (Eminem was arrested twice in 2000 for weapons violations for which he received probation). And when a coworker starts harassing one of Rabbit's gay coworkers he breaks into a defensive rhyme: "Why you f***ing with the gay guy G? You're the one with the HIV." Audiences longing for a compassionate and caring version Eminem won't be disappointed. In his big screen debut Eminem is convincing and hardly afraid to show a soft and vulnerable side. He's a rapper and lyricist at heart however and his spiels often take on a cadence similar to his rap style. As Rabbit's buddy Future Phifer is solid and their relationship on screen is believable and endearing. Brittany Murphy is also great as the skanky Alex whose plan is to get out of Detroit by sleeping with all the wrong people. Basinger however delivers a bland performance as the drunk mom whining about her teen boyfriend's lack of sexual prowess.
Director Curtis Hanson scored Oscar nods for Best Picture and Best Director and won Best Adapted Screenplay in 1997 for the drama L.A. Confidential which is one reason there is more than a bit of buzz surrounding 8 Mile. The film is good but it's not Oscar worthy. Hanson paints a gritty and realistic portrait of the Murder City circa 1995 but the film's problem lies with the story written by The Mod Squad scribe Scott Silver. For one week viewers get a voyeuristic peek into Rabbit's life: he beats people up works hard has sex gets beaten up and sometimes raps. It's a stagnant view that never seems to go anywhere. While we know what happens to his mom--she wins big at bingo washes her hair and does the groceries--we never find out what happens to Rabbit. We can't even assume the film leaves off where Eminem's career starts because it's not a biopic. But despite the weak story Hanson commands a strong performance from Eminem and showcases both the rapper's newfound acting abilities and his musical talent. Considering the film's strength lies in Eminem it's surprising there weren't more musical performances from the Grammy-winning rapper.