How to describe The Adjustment Bureau: a romantic science-fiction thriller? Whatever it is, George Nolfi has created something unusual, entertaining, intriguing and fun. Nolfi, who makes his directorial debut (after writing The Bourne Ultimatum, The Sentinel, Ocean’s Twelve) with this loose adaptation of a Philip K Dick short story, which he also wrote and produced.
Matt Damon is David Norris, a charismatic politician running for the Senate; on election night, after a story from his past ruined his chances, he fleetingly meets Elise (Emily Blunt) by chance in the men’s bathroom, which causes him to make a completely different speech that allows his political life to be salvaged. Some time later, he meets Elise by chance again on a bus, and the spark is reignited. However, when he gets to his office, he finds strange men who have frozen his new colleagues in time and who are adjusting their memories. These men are from the Adjustment Bureau, who work for ‘The Chairmen’ to keep ‘The Plan’ on track, and they are ensuring that Norris keeps to The Plan by never seeing Elise again. But Norris doesn’t want to be told what to do, especially when it comes to Elise …
There are lots of good things about this film. The first things are the two leads: Damon and Blunt are a great romantic couple: you believe in them as two people who have connected and should be together beyond the normal Hollywood suspension of disbelief. Apart from Blunt’s inconsistent accent – I think it starts out as American but ends up reverting to her native British accent – you feel for them and the problem they face as their relationship is being prevented. The second thing is the concept: it is never stated that the men in suits and hats are angels (they prefer to call themselves ‘case workers’), or that the Chairman is God, so it’s left to the viewers to choose their own interpretation. There are lots of nice touches, such as the case workers’ notebooks with moving visuals and their ability to move from place to place through doors (a touch that reminded me of both Monsters, Inc. and the Matrix sequel, but was different from both), but only as long as they wear their hats. The important ingredient is the tone which Nolfi maintains throughout so that you can believe in romance and the sci-fi concept at the same time. It’s a difficult job to maintain the correct atmosphere for a film, so it’s impressive that a first timer got it right.
It’s not a perfect film – there are a few plot holes – but you don’t mind because you are enjoying the ride and want to see the characters win through. The marketing of the film has confused things – the poster resonates with the story of the couple being chased by the ‘angels’ but Blunt doesn’t wear that red dress in the film, and the main quote on the posters of ‘Bourne meets Inception’ is so wrong it’s as if they either missed the point, or the PR people were playing a game where they picked film titles out of a hat to come up with the phrase. However, if you can ignore these red herrings, The Adjustment Bureau is an exciting and romantic film with a unique selling point, plus it will get you thinking about fate versus free will and the illusion of free will. Not bad for a Hollywood film.
P.S. Why does Jennifer Ehle appear in two scenes as a background character with two lines? I had to check it on IMDb because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A BAFTA-award winning actress with a career in the theatre (and a couple of Tony awards) and was recently in The King’s Speech does not appear as a minor supporting character in a film like this.