Friday 23 November 2012

Films: The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Red Lights (2012)

The Adjustment Bureau is yet another movie based on a story (Adjustment Team) by Philip K Dick, who must surely not just hold the record for the number of his stories to have inspired films; his score is probably greater than that of all other SF writers put together.

This starts as an apparently routine story about US Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon), running for office in the Senate, who briefly meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) a dancer to whom he is instantly attracted. By chance, he meets her again some months later and discovers that his feelings have strengthened and are reciprocated by Elise.

At this point, the story becomes anything but routine: for Norris clashes with a mysterious otherworldy organisation called The Adjustment Bureau, which has immense and inexplicable power. The Bureau is set on keeping Norris and Elise apart, for reasons of its own, and what follows is an extended tussle as Norris battles against the will of the Bureau to find and keep Elise, gradually discovering more about his supernatural adversaries as the plot progresses.

This is an unusually low-key film by SF standards - no car chases or explosions, and the Bureau super-agents appear as ordinary businessmen with a peculiar agenda and a neat trick with doorways. Damon plays his usual competent-but-troubled man part (as in the Bourne trilogy) while Blunt, who seems to be appearing in a lot of films I watch, is excellent. This is a rather strange blend of fantasy, romance, and political thriller which I suspect won't be to everyone's taste, but it worked for me.
Red Lights focuses on university academics Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) as they work together to debunk claims of paranormal phenomena, including hauntings and performances by professional "psychics". They are put to the test when one of the most famous psychics of all, Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), returns from a 30-year retirement and performs to packed theatres, apparently achieving the impossible. Furthermore, he has agreed to undergo independent testing of his claimed abilities in a university laboratory. But he and Matheson had crossed swords in the past - was she up to facing him again?

This is an unusual film, a powerful psychological thriller featuring intense emotions as the protagonists clash over what is paranormal and what is mere trickery. The academics feel increasingly paranoid as mysterious events keep hindering their work. There are a couple of unexpected twists, one part-way through and another right at the end which puts events into a very different light, plus one very violent fist-fight. Gripping and rather nerve-racking.

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