Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

Year: 2011
Director: George Nolfi
Screenplay: George Nolfi, based on the short story "Adjustment Team" by Philip K. Dick
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp
Running Time: 105 minutes
Genre: Science-fiction, fantasy, romance, thriller

Summary: New York City, 2006: David Norris (Damon) is a charismatic US congressman who has just lost the race for the US Senate, and is a popular choice to win. Just before giving his concession speech he meets an English ballerina, Elise (Blunt), and the two are instantly attracted. The meeting inspires Norris to give a more honest speech than he had been intending. The speech wins him a lot of support and marks him as an early favourite to win the 2010 Senate race.
Some time later Norris meets Elise again. However it soon becomes apparent that there are people who are determined to keep them seperate. Norris discovers the existence of the "Adjustment Bureau", an organisation of beings who appear identical to humans, but in reality are not, who secretly control human lives and destiny, according to a pre-determined plan. Norris discovers that humans only have the illusion of free will and that most important decisions that affect people's lives are the result of manipulation by the Adjustment Bureau. However, Norris and Elise were never intended to meet and their romance is seriously affecting the Adjustment Bureau's plans. In order to be with Elise, Norris must pit himself against a seemingly all-powerful organisation, whose operatives can be anywhere, who can manipulate anyone around them, who can predict the future and who are determined to keep them apart.

Opinions: Given the marketing and the fact that this is a film based on a story by legendary science-fiction author Philip K. Dick (whose works also inspired Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1990) and Minority Report (2002) among many others) audiences could be forgiven for thinking that this would be another action-packed science-fiction thriller, in fact it is at least as much if not more of a romance than it is science-fiction. In fact it's difficult to see exactly what audience it is mainly aimed at. Viewers expecting a science-fiction thriller could probably be put off by the romance elements, while viewers wanting a romantic film might be put off by the science-fiction thriller elements. However, it could work as a good "date" movie if one person wanted to watch a thriller and the other a romance then this film would make for a good compromise. To be fair to the film, there is enough in it to keep both romantiphobes and sf-haters interested.
The movie is only very loosely based on Philip K. Dick's 1954 short story which was much more science-fiction oriented, and also had a lot more humour and had no romance elements in it at all. The story the film tells is interesting, but never quite manages to successfully blend together the genres of romance, science-fiction and thriller. A lot of interesting ideas come up, but never quite get developed. For example the Adjustment Bureau themselves are never quite explored, although it is hinted that they might be angels. Also, despite being epicted at times as being near-omnipotent they seems to have a habit of making mistakes (the whole mess is set off when one of them falls asleep on the job), added to that the fact that sometimes they manage to turn up anywhere, and other times they are seen running after buses and taxis. Additionally, they constantly worry about the disruptions caused by Norris and Elise's romance, and yet they seem to cause far more disruption by trying to prevent it. The members of the Bureau are ultimately depicted as bureaucrats, guys in suits who are not basically bad or malicious, they just have a job to do and procedures to follow.
The film is very well acted. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt make for likeable and engaging leads and they have a lot of on-screen chemistry. Terence Stamp also impresses in a fairly small role as a sinister member of the Bureau.
The film does have it's share of good scenes and there are some good ideas in it, even if it never quite comes together. It might also have been more interesting if some of the themes of the Adjustment Bureau's manipulation of individual lives and human destiny were explored in a bit more detail. Still it's an entertaining enough film, even if it doesn't serve up everything you might expect or want from it.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau


  1. We saw this at the weekend and I agree with your review! The acting was great but the pacing/structure was a bit off. Plus, they could have done a lot more with the plot. But it was definitely enjoyable and an entertaining way to pass an afternoon! :-D

  2. Thanks! It was definitely a good enough movie, but not great.