STARRING: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony
Mackie, John Slattery, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp
2011, 99 Minutes, Directed by:
struggle to retain free will takes a strangely spiritual turn in The
Adjustment Bureau, a generally lively film that plays with questions of self
while sprinting through a Philip K. Dick theme park of the unreal and the
Think of it as Love Story
meets Total Recall and
Dark City, which doesn’t quite do
justice to the movie-going experience at hand, but comes close to describing the
idiosyncratic, highly cinematic world writer / director George Nolfi generates
here for his filmmaking debut.
David Norris (Matt Damon) is an
aspiring politician looking to climb his way up the Washington ladder and make a
difference in the world, despite his occasionally reckless personality.
On the eve of his greatest
public failure, David meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a spirited dancer who sparks
immediate chemistry with the fallen man, only to scurry away after making a
profound impression. When they meet again by chance, David seizes the
opportunity, attempting to woo Elise for good. Unfortunately, this pairing
interferes with a plan of fate set by The Chairman, who oversees humanity via
assistants known as The Adjustment Bureau - a group of formally dressed men out
to correct deviations in the master plan of life, sent out to stop David and
Elise from falling in love.
Made aware of their presence by
a sympathetic employee (Anthony Mackie), David sets out to protect his future by
challenging the mysterious system.
Adjustment Bureau is an
odd film, but Dick was an ingenious writer, penning this short story in 1954,
which has been exhaustively reimagined for its big screen debut.
Nolfi (who previously
co-scripted Ocean’s Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum) pushes for a
more emotional connection, softening the chilly nature of the tale with a
pronounced sense of humor, while encouraging his gorgeous stars to make blissful
music together as David and Elise fiddle around with their highly unusual
"It asks provocative questions of humanity while sustaining a rousing
sci-fi edge . . ."
It’s a story of love and
paranoia, wonder and choice, asking provocative questions of humanity while
sustaining a rousing sci-fi edge. Nolfi deserves plenty of credit for keeping
Adjustment Bureau as tight and endearing as it is for the first two acts,
creating a needed reminder of humankind to balance out the mystery of the
antagonists and their cryptic guide to life.
Adjustment Bureau is a
stylish picture with terrific costuming ideas that place the perhaps heavenly
agents in garb associated with a 1950’s insurance salesman, giving the growing
menace a deliberate feel of an outdated corporation - an angelic Mad Men
gathering of snappily dressed hunters who study leather-bound books of fate,
imagined here as electronic subway maps of destiny.
The look of the film is
elegant, wise with NYC locations, and rich with glamour, making the actors look
good as the script requests increasingly feverish reactions. Thankfully, there’s
a fantastic ensemble gathered here to fill out the fantasy, with Damon and Blunt
generously sexy and playful as the targeted couple, madly dashing to avoid a
cruel separation as the Bureau plays a few dirty tricks to keep the obsessed
candidate in line.
Also winning are the men in
blue, with Mackie unexpectedly sensitive as the true believer of the Bureau,
while John Slattery is effectively comical and stymied as the senior agent sent
in to clean up David’s interaction with the relentless spoiler known as chance.
Also pleasurable is Terence
Stamp, who doesn’t need much in the way of dialogue to slip into his commanding
role as the Bureau’s hitman, a ruthless agent sent to hurt David where it counts
the most. Stamp brings precise regality and iciness to the supporting role,
permitting the film an extra layer of authority.
Nolfi handles exposition
wonderfully, teasing the audience with bits of godly reveal, keeping the origin
of the Bureau playfully ambiguous, opening the group’s true purpose to
Unfortunately, once the film
fully takes to the art of the chase, it runs out of gas, looking to mount a
dazzling, portal-leaping conclusion at the very moment the end credits should be
Nolfi doesn’t know where to end
the feature, which elongates an otherwise spry thriller. Still, there’s enough
substance and suspense to devour, making the picture an entertaining puzzle with
a satisfying command of human need.