Movie Review - The Adjustment Bureau
Matt Damon is David Norris, a young politician running for senator in New York. Unlike most politicians, David doesn't have a family. If he has friends, the filmmakers don't focus on them. David is instead portrayed as a lonely guy. His only male companion, in fact, appears to be his campaign manager. David has had his setbacks, but he genuinely wants to be elected so that he can do good. Those aspirations are interfered when he meets Elise, a beautiful ballet dancer, played by Emily Blunt.
Based on a 1954 story by Philip K. Dick, David stumbles upon a group of well-dressed men in blue suits and fedoras who claim to have knowledge of a master plan for everyone's life and whose job it is to make sure the most important people stick to that plan. This poses an interesting if often explored question of do humans choose where their lives go or does some higher power like God already have it mapped out.
These men in fedoras work in a Manhattan skyscraper known as the Adjustment Bureau. They have certain abilities that allow them to manipulate people's lives. Those abilities include affecting people's memories and often their intentions, occassionally stopping time and teleporting themselves across significant distances via doors that can open like portals to various places.
Despite all of these abilities, the Adjustment Bureau is not omnipotent. It's certainly not perfect because it does make mistakes. For example, Harry, a sensitive and more heartfelt operative in the Adjustment Bureau, played by Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), falls asleep on the job and allows David to get on a bus, which he wasn't supposed. This causes a ripple in the master plan that Harry's boss named Richardson, played by John Slattery (Mad Men), has to fix.
The efforts of Richardson to fix David's deviations from the master plan give the movie most of its comedy, comedy that's at times on the level of Popeye the Sailor. It's the icing on top of a romantic and moist, vanilla cake courtesy of the efforts of Damon and Blunt. Their chemistry together is just as delicious and certainly just as warm, as if their love came right out of the oven.
It's a tasty treat in this quasi-fantasy. It's more of a fantasy than the other more famous films based on Philip K. Dick's writings. It doesn't aim for the science-fiction or futuristic goals of Blade Runner or Minority Report. It also doesn't go for the paranoia overtones of A Scanner Darkly. This film is instead very much in the present, referencing people like Jon Stewart and Michael Bloomberg.
The Adjustment Bureau itself can only be described as a magical or supernatural organization. The question of whether or not the Bureau's powers are divine is brushed off. David asks Harry if he's an angel, which would have likened their relationship to that of George Bailey and Clarence's in It's A Wonderful Life (1946).
Yet, the filmmakers distance themselves from religion. This isn't as bothersome because they distract us with something that I think is equally compelling. A ranking member or executive at the Bureau, known as Thompson, played by Terence Stamp, pulls back the curtain and gives David an unenviable predicament. It's the last card played to keep David and Elise apart who you want to see together thanks to the wondrous charm of Damon and Blunt. Despite that, it ends in a pretty, New York-loving foot chase.
Trying to find another film for comparison that's a contemporary romance with comedic elements that also brings in ideas of science-fiction or fantasy where the thrust is to keep the two leads apart that ends in a crazy, foot chase is difficult. Yet, the film to which I compare this one is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The Adjustment Bureau has the same spirit as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but without all the complex layers of Charlie Kaufman's script. There's certainly more that writer-director George Nolfi could have done in terms of exploring the Bureau, but the performances are so great that I ignored any other failing.
Five Stars out of Five.
PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.