The Adjustment Bureau Review

Adapted from the Philip K. Dick short story The Adjustment Team (currently in the public domain andavailable online), The Adjustment Bureau is the directorial debut of George Nolfi, whose previous film credits include sceenwriting duties on The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean’s Twelve. At the centre of The Adjustment Bureau is Democratic Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) who accidentally uncovers the mysterious Adjustment Bureau who subtly manipulate events around the world, adjusting the course of future events through working out how the future will transpire and subtly adjusting things to ensure it fits their plan. After a ‘chance’ brief encounter with an enrapturing ballerina named Elise (Emily Blunt) Norris sets out to find her again and begin a relationship but the Adjustment Bureau have a different plan in place for him.

Dick’s story is only around 20 pages and Nolfi understandably adds a lot of extra details and changes to the set up but in doing so he also trims some of the more harder to adapt aspects. Unsurprisingly, for instance, a talking dog that features in the short story doesn’t make it into this relatively by-the-numbers Hollywood thriller. Gone also is the captivating description of a building and all its inhabitants disintegrating into dust, replaced with a more widely palatable and easier to achieve scene where some characters are frozen in static positions whilst others move freely around them.

Probably the most crucial change in Nolfi’s version of the story though is the romantic thriller angle that pads out the running time of this feature by giving the male and female lead strong motivations and also a defining reason why the Adjustment Bureau are so clearly the antagonists. Oddly for a character so marked out as a rebellious congressman, Norris never seems to intent on finding out who the Adjustment are or who is in charge though, despite a bit of initial lip service in this direction. Norris seems to care solely about Elise and this infatuation seems to stop Norris from striving too hard to find out who is really pulling the strings and why. It is not until he is unable to be with Elise and depressed by this that he seems to get really disturbed by the predestination that is stifling his free will. Most significantly it is his free will that he is really bothered about, something that becomes abundantly clear in the film’s oddly cheery and wholly pedestrian final moments.

Despite helping transform a tricky and distinctly Dickian story into a more widely appealing romantic thriller, the attempt by Nolfi to soften off the hard edges of a story that is at the heart about complex ideas surrounding determinism, predestination, free will and the belief in an omniscient God-like figure, also robs it of what really makes it interesting. There are certainly positives to be found in The Adjustment Bureau though; Damon and Blunt are both very well cast, with great chemistry and a winning level of charisma that helps sell a lot of the potentially twee scenes. The supporting roles are also excellently cast with John Slattery, Terence Stamp and Anthony Mackie all turning in solid performances as members of the particularly dapper Adjustment Bureau. The film rests heavily on Damon’s shoulders though and he bears the weight well. Damon is particularly convincing, for instance, when delivering a speech in which he casts aside the think tank approach that has until now heavily influenced his political career and he is genuinely convincing as the average guy politician. This casting aside of what his aides want him to be in, in favour of what he wants to be also obviously provides an interesting counterpoint to the predestination theme throughout the film.

The film also carries a number of not too subtle and mostly squandered political asides. It’s no coincidence that the hero of the film is a Democrat, appears on The Daily Show and makes vague references to Sarbanes-Oxly and environmentally conscious energy. Despite the weak execution of these elements the semi-covert politics in The Adjustment Bureau are welcome though and go some minor way in helping raise the film ever so slightly above the level of Hollywood fluff that it really is. It is a shame though that the same can’t be said for the filmmaker’s approach to any of the more complex themes.

Aside from the frankly horrible final scenes (although your take on this may vary depending on your belief or lack of belief in a higher power) the complexity that The Adjustment Bureau so sorely needs is just not there. Also if one just takes a few minutes to pick at the seams of the film’s logic everything begins to fall apart. This is particularly clear in the moment in which Richardson (Slattery) mentions that some things are the work of the Adjustment Bureau and some are just ‘chance’ which provides the film with a few get out clauses later on but this internal logic doesn’t really add up. Nolfi also chooses to insert some elements that undoubtedly made the script easier to write but are mostly pretty daft, albeit enjoyable for their sheer loopyness. Hats that allow you to turn everyday doors into portals to other locations is probably the most illustrative example of this. Maybe that talking dog wouldn’t have been such a stretch after all.

The Adjustment Bureau is a fun and engaging thriller but one mostly lacking in any real substance or complexity and apart from the minor amusement to be had in seeing people in hats immediately after watching the film, there isn’t much to take away from it and most audiences will be left with very little to chew on as the credits roll.

This review was originally posted at HeyUGuys.