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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Adjustment Bureau

Is Matt Damon finally regaining his mainstream appeal?

March 7, 2011 |  7:00 am


Last week on "Piers Morgan Tonight," Matt Damon quipped that he had gone from one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood just three years ago to one of its least cost-effective today. Citing a Forbes story about actors' earning power, Damon said his agents these days were doing far too good a job -- he was pulling in top paychecks despite generating only middling box office.

Damon may have been joking, but he wasn't really kidding. Until this weekend, every lead role he's tackled since leaving behind his signature Jason Bourne character in 2007 (a roster that includes "The Informant!" Invictus" and "Green Zone") was a commercial disappointment. A co-lead part last fall in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" didn't work out much better. Only True Grit" bucked the trend, and that one wasn't primarily Damon's doing.

The underwhelming reception has been a shame considering how much Damon has stretched himself. Whatever you think of any of those five movies, Damon's part in each is wildly different, both from the others and from what most big-name actors are trying these days. It's very few A-list performers who can go from a troubled clairvoyant ("Hereafter") to a dandy cowboy ("True Grit") to a star-crossed politician ("The Adjustment Bureau") in the space of five months.

Damon finally seemed to snap his losing streak this past weekend when "The Adjustment Bureau" opened to a sturdy $20.9 million, at the middle-high end of industry estimates and in a solid second place behind "Rango." It is, perhaps not coincidentally, his first film of the recent group with a heavy romantic component, which may suggest where one of his key constituencies lies these days.

If the number was a relief to fans of Damon's adventurousness, though, it also raised the question of why it took so long.

Part of Damon's slump can be attributed to the selectivity that makes him interesting in the first place. Having helped anchor major franchises such as the Bourne and "Ocean's" series, the 40-year-old is at the point in his career when he has the leverage to get trickier movies made, which almost inevitably leads to a slump. It's the self-correcting mechanism of Hollywood: Chart enough hits and you're afforded the chance to make the passion projects, which all but guarantees you won't chart as many hits.

But there's a more specific arc for Damon, who in the last few years lost the broad-spectrum appeal of his Bourne and "Ocean's" days thanks to his political outspokenness, which has drawn the criticism of the likes of Andrew Breitbart and others. Damon collaborated on a television documentary with Howard Zinn. He became an activist for causes perceived as liberal.  During the 2008 election season, he famously angered the right-wing blogosphere when he questioned whether Sarah Palin's "hockey mom" bona fides translated into an ability to govern.

It's not clear yet if the "Bureau" numbers can be interpreted as a sign that Middle America is willing to get past their suspicion of Damon and focus on his acting, which from "The Talented Mr. Ripley" to "The Good Shepherd" to his current phase has always been strikingly well-regarded.

It is worth noting that "Bureau" marks the biggest opening for any Damon movie since "The Bourne Ultimatum," and a definite improvement over the measly $14.3 million for "Green Zone" a year ago, when a confluence of factors that included the actor's politics and the movie's (perceived) ideology led to audiences largely staying away.

Damon these days is also criticizing President Obama for a lack of idealism and ambition, and though it's not exactly the same criticism you might hear on Fox News,  it lands a little differently from his candor about Sarah Palin.  And unlike Sean Penn, whose box office really does sometimes seem dinged by his outspokenness, Damon pulls off political activism with charisma and humor, even when he's talking about starchy subjects like African water shortages, or talking up "Inside Job," which he narrated.

A fourth Bourne movie currently remains on hold for Damon and director Paul Greengrass as writers try to hammer out a script. Instead, in the next 18 months Damon will offer up a Cameron Crowe movie about a Southern California father who becomes a zoo owner; a Steven Soderbergh medical action-thriller; and a Liberace biopic, in which he'll play the iconic pianist's boyfriend. The adventurousness will keep coming. We'll see if moviegoers do too.

-- Steven Zeitchik


"Rango" wins box-office shootout; "Adjustment Bureau" in second

Why "Green Zone" failed

Matt Damon gets adjusted

Photo: Matt Damon at January's Golden Globes. Credit: Paul Drinkwater / NBC / Getty Images

Matt Damon gets adjusted

July 7, 2010 | 11:36 am


Poor Matt Damon. Maybe it's just that he works too hard. Last year, the Oscar winner was scheduled to bring out three movies in the fall and saw Universal move one ("Green Zone") into March of the following year. This coming fall, it will happen again.

Universal announced Wednesday morning that it was pushing the "The Adjustment Bureau," the Philip K. Dick-derived sci-fi romance in which Damon plays a politician opposite Emily Blunt's mysterious ballerina, from its initial Sept. 17 date to March 4.

Damon will instead concentrate on his two other fall films: the Coen brothers' "True Grit" remake (which Scott Rudin is producing and which will no doubt demand some serious awards-season promotion time, as Scott Rudin films are wont to demand) and the Clint Eastwood thriller "Hereafter." The latter comes out in December; the former in October.

In fact, the pattern is remarkably similar to last year, when Damon had an awards-season auteur movie (Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant") and a Clint Eastwood film ("Invictus") take pride of place over a Universal play. Damon and his wife are also expecting a child in the early fall, so he's cutting back to just two movies for the season.

Universal's "Adjustment" adjustment set off/was part of a flurry of other scheduling moves by the studio. Few others were of great consequence, though the James Cameron-produced underwater adventure "Sanctum" will now come out a month earlier, on Feb. 4, (it had been set for the March 4 slot). And the studio has moved from February to September "Devil,' a claustrophobic horror film that's produced by the company of the airbender, M. Night Shyamalan (and had been commonly referred to as "The Night chronicles," the name of a series).

Incidentally, the Damon switch means that it's the second movie of the fall-spring season about mystical events surrounding a ballerina. Darren Aronofsky follows up his tour de force "The Wrestler" with "Black Swan,' about mysterious goings-on at the New York ballet, in a likely fall release. And they say Hollywood has abandoned the highbrow.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in 'The Adjustment Bureau.' Credit: Andy Schwartz / Universal Pictures


Matt Damon gets all ugly for Oscar

Matt Damon fights for love and free will in The Adjustment Bureau

Movie Review: Green Zone

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Preview review: Matt Damon fights for love and free will in 'The Adjustment Bureau'

May 13, 2010 |  4:00 pm

Ab1 There hasn’t been too much hype for Matt Damon’s upcoming film “The Adjustment Bureau,” but after the trailer was released Thursday, it seems the Internet is abuzz over it, with bloggers and critics asking, "Why haven’t we heard more about this one?”

The movie, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, will hit theaters in September after Universal pushed back its end-of-summer release date. The trailer begins with ballerina Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) and Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) meeting each other seemingly for the first time, and it’s evident that immediately there's strong chemistry between them. Their shared glance triggers strong emotions within David — but are those feelings genuine or are they a part of some greater scheme controlled by a group of fedora-wearing men called the Adjustment Bureau?

David’s meeting with Elise was apparently not a part of that plan, and now David has to choose if he wants true love — which would mean sacrificing his political ambitions and apparently her dancing career — or to put his life back on the track it had been on.

The movie, directed by “The Bourne Ultimatum” scribe George Nolfi, seems to strike that rare but perfect balance that makes it appealing to both women and men — there’s a real, interesting romantic relationship at the center of everything that’s shrouded by a science-fiction mystery. We like the mix of flirty vignettes of the couple interspersed with the intense moments between David and the Adjustment Bureau. It also seems to have an “Inception”-esque vibe to it without getting crazily confusing.

That being said, our main qualm with the trailer is that it may give too much away — “just remember, we tried to reason with you,” one member of the bureau warns David. As the couple walks toward a blinding white light and David declares his love for Elise, it seems he opts for free will over fate.

Still, even if we have an idea of where the film is going, we’re intrigued enough to see what will happen once it gets there.


— Amy Kaufman (Twitter.com/AmyKinLA)

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.


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