The Adjustment Bureau – Review


Jason Bourne takes on guys in hats

When it comes to cinematic adaptations, Philip K. Dick has had a surprising amount of his works adapted. While the results have been all over the place, with cyber-punk masterpiece Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly at the high end and Next (amongst others) at the low end, Dick has many great stories that make for fertile material in the cinematic realm. The latest work to be adapted is “Adjustment Team” into the Matt Damon vehicle The Adjustment Bureau.

David Norris (Damon) is about to give a consolation speech after losing a race for a seat in the United States Senate. He has a chance encounter with Elise (Emily Blunt), with whom he shares a connection they both feel deep inside. This is something deep inside, the sort of true love that happens in romance novels. Disappearing in opposite paths, he runs into her again by chance on a city bus. But he never was meant to and the resulting path leads him to discovering something he never thought he would: The Adjustment Bureau. They are responsible for shaping the paths by which humanity is guided and he sees behind a curtain he was never meant to know existed. Given a choice between Elise and failure, or leaving her and success for both, he’s left with the choice of choices. Can he live knowing that the great love of his life will never be his, knowing that loss results in him winning at nearly everything else in life? Or will he risk it all for that one chance at true love?

That’s the crux of the film as Norris is left with this decision and decides to fight fate, and the Bureau, to be with her. What follows is an intellectually interesting film about the power of fate that tries to meld an action film’s basic necessities with a romantic thriller’s tone. It’s uneven in both but it doesn’t come from its cast. If anything the film gets carried because George Nolfi gets remarkable chemistry between his two leads that overcomes many of the film’s flaws.

Blunt and Damon share a remarkable chemistry on the screen. This isn’t the sort of red-hot chemistry of a sexually-oriented thriller like 9 ½ weeks but the sort of deep, meaningful connection that the film absolutely has to have in order to make it meaningful. Without the two able to play off each so wonderfully the film would fail miserably; this is a film that has to have great chemistry or else Norris’s decision to fight fate (as it will) doesn’t feel as meaningful as it could be. Neither is anywhere near remarkable or brilliant, contributing solid performances in a solid genre film that doesn’t require brilliance, but they work so well together that one wonders what they could do with a first rate script and story to match.

And that’s the main problem with the film. It tries to graft an action picture onto the film’s final act, with Nolfi using the sort of sensibilities he brought to the Bourne Ultimatum script in terms of a chase sequence, with a film that’s mainly an intellectual thriller. This is a film about fate and one man’s attempt at trying to defeat it, against overwhelming odds and obstacles, and when it tackles this particular aspect of the story it works wonderfully. The film’s first two acts are a great statement on the nature of fate and free will, giving us plenty to think about and discuss, but then finds the need to descend into a chase sequence that is just missing gunfire to complete its transformation into a crowd pleasing action film.

Damon is comfortable in this aspect but the film’s tone never follows suit. It’s a delicate balancing act to take an intellectually-based thriller into an action thriller and Nolfi isn’t the guy to walk that line. The Adjustment Bureau isn’t a brilliant film, merely a good one, but the seeds of brilliance are there. They just aren’t harvested.

Director: George Nolfi
Notable Cast: Terence Stamp, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie
Writer(s): George Nolfi based off “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick

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