The Adjustment Bureau

by Alan Rapp on March 4, 2011

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Adjustment Bureau
  • IMDB: link

the-adjustment-bureau-posterIs your life your own? Does fate need an extra push? Is there a grand plan? Is someone watching? Loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau attempts to answer these questions when one man looks under a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed.

When we meet U.S. Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) his career isn’t going quite as planned. On the eve of a lost election, while working on his concession speech in a men’s restroom, he meets a beautiful young dancer who will change his life in more ways than either of them can imagine.

David and Elise (Emily Blunt) make an immediate connection only to be separated for years by fate… or something else. A chance encounter years later is also derailed and that’s when David comes face to face with “The Adjustment Bureau.” For reasons left unsaid, the Bureau don’t want David and Elise together, and will do everything in their power to stop this deviation from their mysterious plan.

David only knows two things: 1) He loves Elise, and 2) For both their sakes they need to remain apart. And so the character is presented with an impossible choice. Does he act on his feelings for Elise, possibly dooming both of them, or does love triumph all no matter what the cost?

At times, the conundrum works better than the film’s execution. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy The Adjustment Bureau, I just wish it had kept some of its secrets a little closer to the vest. The further down the rabbit hole David goes the more is revealed about the world he didn’t know existed and the reasons for the actions of the Bureau agents he encounters (John Slattery, Anthony Mackie), some of the film’s mystery is lost. I would have preferred if the Bureau’s workings hadn’t been so thoroughly explained or explored. A group that scary, and with that much power, comes off better the less you know about them, not more.

That said, there’s plenty of that is worthy of praise. The romantic thriller should appeal to a wide audience, and both the sci-fi suspense and love stories are aptly reasoned and executed. Damon and Blunt are two strong actors that know how to work off each other to create memorable, and believable, moments. That’s not always easy given the nature of the story we’re presented with. Blunt is charming as always, and Damon knows how to play a conflicted leading action star about as good as anyone making films today.

The suspense works even better than the love story. David’s initial encounter with the Bureau (he walks in on them “reprogramming” his best friend), as well as their ability to repeatedly track him and derail his actions, constantly reminds us how small David and Elise are in the grand scheme of things and how little power each of them have. Even though we know their chances are slim, we’re rooting for David and Elise to get the happiness denied them.

Things get a little shaky in the final act when the thriller and love story merge and a little too much is spelled-out for the audience. Even if the film doesn’t quite live up to its potential, it does provide an intriguing idea and a tense tale filled with some strong performances and a pretty darn entertaining action sequence involving Damon and the agents racing through a series of doorways, jumping around New York through the secret transportations system of the Bureau. (Very cool.)

Philip K. Dick’s work has had mixed success when adapted to film. Isa Dick Hackett, Dick’s second daughter is an Executive Producer this time around. The Adjustment Bureau is certainly no Blade Runner, A Scanner Darkly or Total Recall. It is however far better than the likes of Paycheck, Minority Report, or Next. It may not quite be A-list, but The Adjustment Bureau works well enough as a B-movie take on one of Dick’s stories. That’s better than most have faired.

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