Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
February 25th, 2011

Rating: 3.5/5

Writers: George Nolfi (screenplay), Philip K. Dick (short story, "Adjustment Team")
Director: George Nolfi
Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery
Studio: Universal

David Norris is an up-and-coming politician, a neighborhood boy turned frat boy turned wunderkind driven to the political spotlight for a number of reasons. When we meet David (Matt Damon), he’s just about to lose his first bid for Senate (thanks to a “photo scandal” that, truthfully, wouldn’t even make the news in most markets) – but he’s also about to meet Elise (Emily Blunt). It would be unfair to count their first introduction as a “meet cute,” as it’s much bigger than that, framing up elements of their lives and personalities that will prove important later. Also, this isn’t cute – it’s just damn sexy.

David and Elise, however, are not meant to meet, and the repercussions of such a meeting go far beyond anything that either of them could foresee. But what they can’t see, the Adjustment Bureau can. David’s life, as it turns out, has long been followed (and, ahem, adjusted) by one of the Bureau’s (for lack of a better term) agents, Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie). As if David’s losing a Senate seat wasn’t bad enough, Harry has to clean up the potential mess created by David meeting Elise. But he fails at this, and David’s life takes a number of turns that must be adjusted to keep on the correct path (as dictated by “The Chairman”). It’s inconvenient that he can’t seem to forget Elise. It’s even more inconvenient when he finds out what’s really going on.

Very loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story, Adjustment Team, screenwriter and director George Nolfi has more than made THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU his own. So many of Dick’s works have been turned into big budget films – BLADE RUNNER, TOTAL RECALL, A SCANNER DARKLY, PAYCHECK, MINORITY REPORT, just to name the big flicks – that the average moviegoer may be a bit taken aback by THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. The short story on which THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is based, Adjustment Team, can be thanked for the generating the kernel of an idea for the film. The Team world is, ostensibly, the one in which BUREAU exists, though the story and the film follow very different people, and both have very different messages about the possibilities of “adjusting” the lives of average people.

But THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU falters as it piles on the dichotomy of situations and choices – career versus love, reasons versus emotion, fate versus chance, God versus science – without giving us any new answers that apply to anything outside of David and Elise’s own story. Instead of using an intimate story to say something about life’s big questions, Nolfi has flipped the situation to lackluster results. It’s all microcosm, despite the heady and heavy potential of the universe that Dick created and that Nolfi attempts to expand upon. Despite its pedigree, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is not a science fiction film, and it’s barely passable as a thriller.

But what saves THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is undoubtedly its top-notch cast. Anthony Mackie turns in yet another performance that seems to exist primarily to remind viewers what it means to be a truly exceptional supporting player. John Slattery is at his slick best, turning Roger Sterling into a crafty and catty villain for the screen. A villain who may be much more innocent than he looks – but still a looming presence, a shadow no one (especially David) can shake.

And the greatest surprise of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is not in any of its supposed twists or turns or snaps of Dick’s writing wrist, but in the highly palatable (in every sense of the word) chemistry between Damon and Blunt. Too often, romantic pairings in films seem slapped together by virtue of who is “hot” at that moment – which does not necessarily equal a similar temperature between leads. The success of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU hinges on the audience’s dedication to the romance between David and Elise. In many ways, BUREAU isn’t breaking any new ground, it’s merely presenting a very classic romantic cinematic trope in a more intellectual framework. If you’ve ever seen any film in which the central couple was torn apart by circumstances beyond their control, you’ve seen BUREAU. But Damon and Blunt together make a wholly unexpected magic – they deserve every ridiculous term for chemistry you can throw at them – they sizzle, they pop, they burn, they consume. If the great hook of BUREAU is a deeply emotional and achingly sexy romance, consider Damon and Blunt expert fishermen.

The film frequently looks stunning, utilizing gorgeous, classic shots in capturing its characters and their surroundings. Nolfi has paid particular attention to hallways and doors, impressive rooms, the stillness of empty buildings, as all are important and essential to the heart of the story. David and Elise have places to go, but where they are going gets more and more unknowable and unclassifiable as they wind on – a courtroom lobby as more than just that, as mental future, as its own labyrinth. Of particular note is the lighting, dreamy and evocative, and played to the hilt in the film’s penultimate chase scene, thanks in no small part to the addition of raindrops and a pounding score.

Not a classic Philip K. Dick film by any stretch of the sci-fimagination, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU may fail at illuminating its source material, but it delivers an unexpectedly gorgeous and sexy romance  that could tempt fate itself.

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  • Jamie Neish

    You just made me so happy. I’ve been wanting to see this ever since it was announced, but then when Universal delayed it, and the first dreadful posters were released, I started to really panic. But your review made me excited again. Roll on March 4!

  • Top Movie Soundtracks

    Love the soundtrack with music by composer Thomas Newman.

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