Weekend Viewing Roundup: The Adjustment Bureau and North by Northwest

This weekend cinema-viewing choices came down to Rango and Adjustment Bureau, which trailer was quite intriguing. In the end my hubby and I went with the latter, even though Rango won the weekend box office just as I predicted in Scarlet Sp1der’s poll last Tuesday.

It seems that the viewing theme this weekend is men in dapper suits (and fedora) 🙂

The Adjustment Bureau

An affair between a politician and a ballerina is affected by “mysterious forces” keeping the lovers apart.

I said in my trailer post this was based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, but it’s actually his sci-fi short story called Adjustment Team. The script by George Nolfi (who also directed his feature film debut) is VERY loosely based on it. In the short story, the protagonist’s is real estate salesman Ed Fletcher instead of NY congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) in the movie.

The main theme of the film deals with fate, and whether we’re in control of it or is it in the hand of unseen forces that has all our lives mapped out? It seems so unthinkable that we don’t have our free will to lead our lives as we see fit. Even if we know we may make mistakes along the way, we can’t fathom someone preventing us to make decisions on things that matter to us, especially love. But that is what happened to Norris when seemingly by ‘chance’ he meets Elise (the lovely Emily Blunt) in a man’s bathroom of all places and the two fall for each other.

The thing about this film is that though it’s billed as a sci-fi thriller (or is it drama), it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a science fiction, at least the kind of sci-fi I expect. There are no weird looking robots or scary metal plates underneath people’s faces or anything like that, just dapper men in gray suits and cool fedora. They’re not ‘angels’ as one of them explained to Damon’s character, more like ‘case officers’ assigned to each individual on the planet (without their knowing or consent obviously) to make sure they go according to plan that’s already written in their ‘book.’ These agents report to the Chairman, which is a god-like figure that’s implied at the end of the movie to be omniscience as he/she is everywhere among us.

I’m a sucker for forbidden romance and sci-fi, so put the two together and I’m hooked. Damon is sympathetic enough, and sums up quite a believable chemistry with Blunt, which is important considering the whole plot hinges on their relationship. The performances overall are pretty decent, though nothing to write home about. Damon is sympathetic and likable enough as the ambitious politician (he seems to be a leader real Dems would dream about). Blunt is very attractive whilst still retain that approachable quality about her. She’s also quite convincing as a ballet dancer, she must have gone through pretty intense training for that. Anthony Mackie and Terrence Stamp as members of the Bureau are also respectable in their roles.

Yet I can’t help feeling it’s all a bit underwhelming for me. Of course some movies are intentionally mysterious and vague to make you ponder, which is expected to a degree. But in this one I feel that there are way too many questions left to ‘chance’ and the filmmaker doesn’t seem sure what to make of the totalitarian world the characters inhabit. I don’t mind that it’s not overly action-packed, but had enough fun parts, such as the Bourne-like chase through multiple doors, but it just gives you more clues instead of getting you closer to the answer. Some reviews call this ‘Inception-lite’ but I actually felt that Chris Nolan did a much better job in providing clues for the audience that the experience was much more satisfactory. Somehow this one doesn’t linger in my mind much, or I just wasn’t too enthused to think about it much afterward. So in the end, it was a pretty decent 2-hours of entertainment, but not a particularly memorable one.

3 out of 5 reels

North by Northwest (1959)

A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive.

I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to Hitchcock’s classics, but I’m glad I finally got around to this. This is also the second Hitchcock/Cary Grant movie I ever watched, the first one was To Catch a Thief which was kinda underwhelming for me. Fortunately this one indeed lived up to the hype!

From the moment the film started with Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill whimsical scenes with his secretary, I knew I’m going to enjoy this movie. Within 10 minutes, Roger is kidnapped by two henchmen who were so convinced he was George Kaplan, the man they’ve been looking for, that nothing Roger said would make them believe otherwise. From then on the case of mistaken identity just took on a life of its own and Roger is dragged along farther and farther. In the process, he ended up being a wanted man for drunken driving all the way to murder involving a member of UN’s General Assembly!

A scene at the auction w/ Mason & Landau

All the while, with every step Thornhill takes, we’re taken along for the ride and what a ride it was. Hitchcock’s directing style here is quite energetic and done with such a style that even without the sophisticated special effects of today’s thrillers, it still pretty suspenseful. The dialogue is snappy and fun, delivered with poise and whimsy by the suave Cary Grant. He may be too old for the role (by his own admission, I mean the actress playing his mother is actually younger than him!), but it didn’t detract from how effective he was in this movie.

Marie Saint in that gorgeous red dress!

Eva Marie Saint was gorgeous and seductive as the ‘stranger on the train’ Eve Kendall who flirts up a storm with Thornhill. Can’t believe she was Martha Kent in Superman Returns! English actor James Mason and very young (and handsome) Martin Landau were also particularly notable as the villains.

Besides the story and performances, this film also looks darn good. I love the scenery, the classic cars and cute 50s costumes, especially Eve’s red floral dress with the low cut back. It’s as if everyone were so darn stylish back then. There are iconic scenes aplenty to speak of, but the three things that stood out for me were the airplane chase in the South Dakota woodland, the train scenes and of course, that exhilarating chase on top of the statues of Mount Rushmore! I don’t know what it is with witty banters between two potential lovers on a train that I find irresistible, the scene between Eve and Roger have been shamelessly copied many times over but few managed to come close to being half as good (I’m looking at you The Tourist!)

If I could have one gripe though, I think it could’ve been edited a bit more tightly. It currently runs 131 minutes, but I felt like the ending kinda dragged a bit. Still, it was unpredictable until all the way to the end which is always a plus in any movie.

I feel like I couldn’t do this movie justice with my review, but let’s just say I can understand now what the fuss is about this one and why this ranked #40 in American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movie of the last century. It’s rare to see a movie that has it all: action, mystery, romance, humor, etc. PLUS great performances from the great looking actors! I’m interested to see more of Hitchcock classics now, perhaps Rear Window or Spellbound next to give other classics leading men a chance 🙂

4.5 out of 5 reels

Well, what movie(s) did you end up seeing this past weekend? I’d also love to hear your thoughts about either one of these movies.

41 thoughts on “Weekend Viewing Roundup: The Adjustment Bureau and North by Northwest

  1. PrairieGirl

    Hoorah! We love it when rtm sees one of our recommended classics and loves it, don’t we Vince?! And your review certainly is spot on. Love the hotel scene too, and the dress, yes! Just a reminder to keep Hitchcock’s Rebecca on your list – it’s a very good romance/mystery, and not just my given name!

    1. He.. he.. I was a bit worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it, but it’s hard not to with this one. Thanks for thinking my review is spot-on… I still feel how do I do it justice since it’s such a beloved classics. Yes, I still plan on seeing Rebecca… what a great name 😉

  2. Vince

    Bravo, rtm! Very honest review of both films – pros and cons alike. That is a sign of a good critic! Philip K. Dick stories are hard to adapt and very rarely do they translate well on the screen. Even Blade Runner has it’s detractors. However, it sounds worthwhile still for me (a sci fi nut).

    I’m also glad you mentioned The Tourist in reference to North by Northwest. I never saw the Depp/Jolie flick but gathered it was a semi-ripoff of this Hitchcock classic from the trailers. I quite agree that the ending at the house and Mt. Rushmore dragged quite a bit. And, yes, please do see Spellbound and Rear Window! I also recommend Notorious, the classic Grant/Bergman pairing.

    1. THANK YOU for lending me NxNW! I wouldn’t even mind seeing it again one day. Meh, I’d just see The Tourist if you’re into Jolie or Venice.

      Yes, I’m working my way down to all the Hitchcock, but I’ll go w/ Spellbound next as I love Gregory Peck. Amazing how many times Hitchcock has worked w/ Grant, but hey, he really was one of the best leading men of Hollywood.

  3. Mike

    The Adjustment Bureau sounds like me and my GF. I’ll admit, sometimes just an interesting concept is enough for a flick. Even though the concept is kinda blown in it’s presentation. Many of the Twilight Zone episodes were sort of the same. Slight let-downs by the end. Yet still, worth the time.

  4. Ted S.

    I’ve read so many of Phillip K. Dick’s novels and short stories that I totally forgot about The Adjustment Team. When I saw the trailer of The Adjustment Bureau, I thought to myself where did I know that story from? Anyhoo, I’ll probably give the movie a rent.

    1. I don’t know how you’d feel as a big fan of the author, I think the book/story might be a lot more compelling than the movie. So yeah, I’d say rent ‘Bureau.’

  5. North By Northwest is such a great movie. I am working my way through Hitchcock’s catalog, too… it’s always fun watching classics for the first time!

    I am mildly curious about The Adjustment Bureau but it sounds like it might be best to wait for it on DVD. Nice reviews!

    1. Hey Eric, I’m glad I’m not the only one watching Hitchcock classics for the first time, how many have you seen so far?

      Depending on your interest in the subject matter and/or cast, it could be worth seeing in the theater. But maybe a matinee.

      1. Hmm… I have still only seen five or so, unfortunately. In the last few months, I watched Rear Window, North By Northwest and Rope all for the first time. Rope is probably my favorite of the three, and I highly recommend checking that out.

        Next up I will probably tackle some of the ones available on Netflix Instant Watch. Dial M For Murder has been near the top of my queue for a while now. What all have you seen?

        1. Rear Window is on my list, too. I watched Disturbia which was supposedly an homage to that, I thought that was decent but I’m sure the original is tons better.

          I’m afraid I’ve only seen two of Hitchcock movies in its entirety, NBN and To Catch a Thief. I’ve watched Psycho in bits and pieces, not too interested in that.

          1. I am in the same boat with Psycho. I have seen parts of it, but have sadly missed out on seeing the entire film. Unfortunately, somehow I have seen the entirety of the 1998 remake. Don’t ask me how that happened. :\

            Well, anyway, I look forward to future Hitchock reviews! I think you have motivated me to tackle more of his catalog sooner rather than later.

            1. Well the thing about Psycho is that I’ve seen the clip/images so many times it kinda lessen the impact for me when I actually watched it. There is a 1998 remake of that??? 🙂

              Well I’ll be sure to review the classics as I see ’em, are you going to do the same, too?

              1. Yeah, apparently Gus Van Sant thought it would be a good idea to do a shot-by-shot remake with Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. It got a lot of really poor reviews.

                I will do my best to review the classics as well, although I have a bad habit of neglecting some of the older movies I watch. I will try to fix that! 🙂

  6. Paula

    Glad to get your take on Adjustment Bureau. Confirms my thought that it’s a rental. the chemistry between the leads is all i got from the trailer. Nothing like Equilibrium, but then….what is? 😉

    I agree with Vince’s comment, especially about Notorious. definitely DEFINITELY check it out…i love all of Hitchcock’s films (early, late, even Family Plot was interesting to me) but Notorious has been my favorite for a while and one of the ones that still brings the suspense, tho i’ve seen it probably 4 or 5 times 🙂 Also agree with PrairieGirl re: Rebecca, one of his best ever.

    1. Oh I LOVE you for that Equilibrium comment… yes, it’s dang near impossible to top that. Bale at his most breathless-inducing scenes I think and he’s not even shirtless 😀

      Ok then, I’m even more excited to see those Hitchcock films now!

      1. Paula

        oh Lord have mercy…he’s yummy in that 😉

        sort of in the suspense category, we watched Brick over the weekend. if you dig film noir, you might like it. lone detective tries to solve a murder in a world of femme fatales, drug dealers and thugs…set at a California high school. Seems also heavily influenced by David Lynch. Amazing looking movie

        thanks for the Cary Grant trivia 🙂

        1. Ahah, yes he is! This is the movie that makes me long to see Bale looking like his best hunky self and being in love… He’s done way too many crazy intense, survival-mode type of roles lately, but I knew he’s got the romantic in him.

          Oh I know about Brick, just haven’t got around to it. That’s the one w/ Joseph Gordon Levitt right? I didn’t know it’s more of a noir.

          Grant’s got a great list of trivia, it was fun learning more about him.

          1. Dave W


            Big thumbs up for Brick. It’s a noir set in high school. The thing about Brick is you have to get used to the slang… which I love. It’s like watching a Clockwork Orange a little bit. You have to really pay attention to the dialogue. Levitt’s really come a long way from 3rd Rock From The Sun what with Brick, (500) Days of Summer and Mysterious Skin. Those got him noticed and onto Inception and the third Batman movie.

            Fun fact… there is a famous movie goof in North By Northwest. It’s the scene where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint are in the lodge at Mt. Rushmore and there is a kid in blue, in the background, plugging his ears because a gun is about to go off. Check it out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAhKLfzDHcI It’s at the 20 second mark. LOL.

            1. I should check out Brick, but the one Levitt movie I’m curious about is The Lookout which I heard is very good also.

              Oh thanks for the video link. That is too funny! How could Hitchcock have missed that??

  7. I have seen only the end of North by Northwest, definitely one of those movies I should check out. Those 50’s movies are really a blind side for me 😉

    1. Yeah, I’m the same way. It’s hard enough catching up w/ contemporary movies! But some are definitely worth seeing, such as NBN.

  8. Funk

    Darn good review of North by Northwest, one of my favorite Hitchcock movies, I just watched it a few months back and couldn’t help but marveling at all the classic scenes and location shots. I don’t think any actor past or present can wear a suit like Grant, other than maybe Bond.
    I had a throw back weekend for viewing movies that went way back for me and that I probably have not seen since the 70’s or so.
    The first was a laugh-a-thon, in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”. There were times I was laughing so hard I had to hit the pause button, so I can get up and walk around a bit to settle down. Some parts of the movie was like it was out of looney tunes.
    The other was “The Miracle Worker” in which Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke picked up oscars. Bancroft for Best Actress and Duke best actress in a supporting role.

    1. THANK YOU Funk, I appreciate your kind words. Oh I agree about Grant, amazing how lean he was even at his age, I believe he’s already in his 50s at that time. Well the fact that Ian Flemming modeled Bond after him, he obviously would make a perfect 007.

      Wow, I gotta check that ‘Mad World’ movie, sounds like a real hoot. The one movie that made me hurling on the floor like that is The gods must be crazy.

  9. Seems you had a slightly more uplifting weekend movie watch than I did Ruth.

    Interesting that you took a different very away from AB than Sammy V. Still want to see it.

    I really must start watching some oldies. I seem to have a mental block on movie pre 1980.


    1. I’ll check out Sammy’s review. Yeah, it’s still worth seeing, not terrible just not as good as I had hoped.

      Ha..ha.. someone was telling me the same thing on the way to work yesterday, she only watched movies from 80s and up. I think it’s good to see some of the classics as some of them really are superior to today’s movies, even with the lack of sophisticated special effects.

  10. North by Northwest! SO AWESOME. Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint make me swoon. I’m glad that you decided to see it, in spite of your lackluster reaction to To Catch a Thief (which is really not half as good).

    We saw How to Train Your Dragon, which was of course excellent. How cute is Toothless? I totally want a pet dragon now. And honestly, anything that has GB and Craig Ferguson as buddies has gotta be good. 🙂

    1. Yes, they are swoon-worthy aren’t they? Yes, awesome is the word… but for whatever reason Grant didn’t make me weak in the knees as Gregory Peck did in Romance Holiday, but still he’s super hunky!

      Oohhhh, are you gonna review HTTYD? You must! Toothless is soooo adorable. I want to have a pet dragon too, I mean then I also get to fly!! He.. he… it’s cool to hear GB and CG as buddies like they are in real life. Though of course in reality GB won’t be as serious as Hiccup’s dad 😉

  11. Awesome weekend lineup. I love North by Northwest in a way I can never truly describe. Especially the ending – a very quick, sly, and perfect piece of innuendo. Vintage Hitchcock in a fun way.

    1. Oh yeah, that ending when he said “Come along, Mrs. Thornhill,” with that Freudian train going into the tunnel is kinda naughty for that era I’d presume, but it’s perfect! 😉

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  13. North By Northwest is one of my favourite Hitchcock films. I think it is one of his most accessible films, it’s great to introduce people to Hitchcock with it. Especially those that only know him for Psycho. Cary Grant is brilliant in it. Great review Ruth.

    1. Yeah, I think you’re right about its accessibility. I certainly don’t have much interest to watch Psycho or The Birds, but I’m still curious to see Vertigo and Rear Window. I can see why you love NbN, Dan, I really enjoyed it, glad I finally got around to seeing it.

  14. Great parallel review. Don’t know how I missed that before – the graphics for TAB are very similar to the opening title sequence of NBN.

    Several years ago I had the pleasure of seeing Eva Marie Saint and Ernest Lehman talk about the film after a film festival screening. It was awesome to hear 1st hand accounts of Cary Grant and Hitch.

    Vertigo and Rear Window was on this weekend on Cinemax 🙂

    1. Thanks Luv. Yeah you’re right, the TAB opening was perhaps an homage to NBN. Wow, that’s awesome that you were in the room w/ Eva Marie Saint!

      I have to check out both of those Hitchcock movies one of these days.

  15. You are right. NbNW definitely has it all. A wonderful film and my personal favourite of Hitchcock’s films. I just bought this on blu-ray and I’m very excited to watch it, as I’ve heard its one of the greatest transfers to blu-ray so far.

    1. Hi Ian, yeah the BD does look great doesn’t it? I think that’s the version I watched. It’s nice when the studios spent money to transfer their movies properly.

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