“The Adjustment Bureau” has the makings of a fantastic movie. It has humor, a love story and a philosophical villain with a science-fictional twist. The only issue is the film never fully commits to one plot idea and falls short trying to do it all.
The movie starts strong, following Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) as he loses his election for the New York State Senate seat. As he steps out of his premature “victory” party to get some air, he meets ballerina Elise (Emily Blunt) and sparks fly. He tries to follow her, but when he gets too close, he’s summoned by the mysterious Adjustment Bureau, a group of four fedora-wearing men led by Richardson (John Slattery) and boss Thompson (Terence Stamp). They tell Norris he was not meant to fall in love with Elise, and if he gets too close, the consequences will be dire.
The film is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story, “The Adjustment Team.” It begins with an interesting idea: People’s lives are out of their control, and if they go off track, they must be put back on course, or “adjusted,” by an outside force. Driving the action is the chemistry-filled flirting between David and Elise, compelling moments with David’s attempted comeback into politics and the final showdown as David tries to run away.
Damon is his usual charming self as he tries to decide whether Elise is worth giving up his political aspirations. Blunt flirts her way through Elise’s character and even does all of her own dancing. Slattery essentially plays his character Roger Sterling from “Mad Men” with more nefarious purposes, but he does it well.
Perhaps the most inspired casting move was the youngest and most sympathetic Adjustment Bureau member Mitchell (Anthony Mackie). As the one villain sympathetic to Damon’s character, he manages to be both intimidating and trustworthy.
However, the movie tries to be too many genres in one. It leans toward a romance, with Norris and Elise fighting fate to be together, and sci-fi, with four ordinary-looking — and surprisingly well-dressed — men knowing what the characters’ futures should be. The film even gets philosophical, daring the audience to question if things are “meant to be.” It is also humorous, with jokes peppering Norris’ political speeches.
With so much going on plot-wise, the film doesn’t completely succeed in any one area. The sci-fi aspect of an unseen “chairman” of the Adjustment Bureau gets old, and the philosophical ideas it puts forth don’t seem as effective as other recent movies such as “Inception.” Serious moments become unintentional jokes, especially toward the end, which was far too easy of a resolution. It fizzles out into a simplistic ending that insults the viewer’s intelligence after establishing such a complicated plot before.
“The Adjustment Bureau” has some great moments and poses intriguing questions about life. It’s puzzling, sexy and action-packed until the last three minutes of the film. Perhaps if the Adjustment Bureau had thought to change the ending, the movie would have been more satisfying.
The Adjustment Bureau was written and directed by George Nolfi, adapted from the short story, “The Adjustment Team,” by Philip K. Dick.