The Adjustment Bureau

© 2011 Ray Wong

Part science fiction, part fantasy, and part spiritual-philosophical meditation, The Adjustment Bureau is actually a romance at the core.

New York Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) is a promising politician about to become the youngest senator to be elected, but college misdemeanor blindsides his campaign. On the eve of his defeat, he meets free-spirited dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), and he's smitten. He's also inspired to give one of his best speeches that promptly restores his popularity.

Little does he know there are a bunch of hat- and suit-wearing men running around him making sure certain things happen, including his chance meeting with Elise. The problem is, David is not to see Elise again, and these men make sure that he doesn't. Unfortunately for them, a mishap leads to another chance meeting between Elise and David. As David's determined to pursue Elise, the dark-suited men show up again, led by Agent Richardson (John Slattery) who reveal themselves as the Adjustment Bureau. They are there to make sure certain "paths" are followed according to the plans designed by "The Chairman." They convince David that Elise is not part of his path, and he must never see her again.

Three years later, David is once again campaigning for the senate seat and he's leading by 16 points. Everything looks great for him until he sees Elise again. He believes it's his fate to end up with her. And what do you know, Richardson and his men show up again and threaten David: if he continues to see Elise, it would ruin their respective future. David must make a choice to do the right thing.

Matt Damon (True Grit) is one of the most sought-after actors today, and I'm somewhat worried that he's overexposing himself. Fortunately, Damon has the good sense of taking on very different roles, whether it's LaBoeuf in True Grit or Mark Whitacre in The Informant! However, I feel that as David Norris, he's playing a similar, love-sick character as George Lonegan in Hereafter; and both films have a supernatural/spiritual undertone. Damon's performance is retrained but proactive. However, I can't say it's one of his strongest.

Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria) is better when she's playing quirky, slightly bitchy characters as she did in The Devil Wears Prada. As Elise, she underplays the role and thus comes across as a bit passive. Granted, her character still shows the same quirky, spunky quality. It's just that while the story rests more heavily on Damon's character, Blunt doesn't have much to work with.

The supporting cast has a much funner time. Terrence Stamp (Valkyrie) is wonderfully menacing as Agent Thompson. He gives the movie a much-needed jolt of energy and urgency. Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) is also excellent as Agent Harry Mitchell, who has a soft spot for David's plight. John Stattery (Iron Man 2) is dutifully droll as Agent Richardson, and Michael Kelly (Did You Hear About the Morgans) is solid as David's best friend and campaign manager.

Written and directed by George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum), the screenplay is based on Philip K. Dick's short story. Now, Dick is well-known for his futuristic, thought-provoking short stories such as Minority Report and Blade Runner. With The Adjustment Bureau, Dick (and Nolfi) examines the notion of fate and free will. The problem with this screenplay, however, is that it meanders. It focuses on David Norris and fails to develop Elise's character fully, so she comes across as more of a concept than a real person. Also, the premise has an uncomfortable religious tone, even though they make sure there is no mention of any particular religion. Still, it's a far-fetched concept that needs to be handled with care.

Unfortunately, I feel that Nolfi misses the boat here. He is no stranger to character-driven, high concept thrillers. But The Adjustment Bureau falls short as a thriller -- there's not enough thrill (even though there are quite a number of chases and one violent car crash). The story meanders when it comes to David's on and off again relationship with Elise. Granted, Damon and Blunt have good chemistry, but their relationship is so thinly developed that I'm not convinced by David's conviction, especially given what he knows. And that's another problem, too. I can't wrap my mind around all the plot holes and illogical twists. For example, after they reveal themselves to David, why don't they just erase Elise from his memory, if they have such abilities? Some of the twists are contrived and predictable.

Nolfi's debut effort of directing is generally smooth and workmanlike. The production is handsome and the location shots are great. He proves that he can be as good a director as he is a writer. However, I think directing has distracted him from the writing, which seems to be the weakest aspect of the movie.

Don't get me wrong. I adore the premise and I think the notion of fate vs. free will is, and always will be, a great concept to explore. I'm just not really buying the concept of a bunch of men running around meddling with fate. It's a bit far-fetched for me and Nolfi's interpretation doesn't engage me enough to change my mind. I may have to see this again to see if I would adjust my opinion.

Stars: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terrence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, Michael Kelly, John Slattery
Director: George Nolfi
Writers: George Nolfi (based on short story by Philip K. Dick)
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image
Running Time: 105 minutes


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total – 7.2 out of 10

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