The true starting point for The Adjustment Bureau is Philip K. Dick. The science fiction writer still perhaps most famous now for writing the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep which then transformed into Blade Runner. The Adjustment Bureau based on his short story Adjustment Team which is very much like his other works, a parable of paranoia and conspiracy, the idea that greater corporate power is somehow in command of our lives. Most recently we had Richard Linklater’s bizarrely wonderful film A Scanner Darkly which at its heart was about surveillance and a creeping sense of people watching people, with the characters living in consistent fear of that which you cannot see, whilst being out of their faces on drugs.
However, the true heart of understanding The Adjustment Bureau, is none of that, although obviously it looms large over the story, it is actually a sweet, beautifully played romantic tale and one of the most original of its kind that I have seen in a very long time. The story tells of a very well liked congressman David Norris who has dreams of living it big as a politician. However, after a scandal breaks he suddenly loses the power he kept for four years. On the night of his loss however he meets Elise, with whom he develops an infatuation that eventually blossoms into love. But, in his way are a shady group of hat wearing corporate people who attempt to tear them apart, because she doesn’t fit into David’s ‘plan’.
There are a great deal of things to like about the film, the main part of which is the central relationship between David and Elise, played by Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. They are fantastic together on screen, they share a dynamic chemistry with each other that makes them both thoroughly convincing and utterly charming. Damon is a person who at the start of his career never truly lit up the screen, he was always a bit dull on screen, but after the Bourne series that all changed, and subsequently he has far improved as an actor. Recently we’ve seen him in his Oscar nominated turn in Invictus and arguably his best role to date as the egotistical Texas Ranger La Beouf in True Grit, where he has played down to earth, he’s played real. Here that persona absolutely fits his David Norris, as well as playing the facade of being an affable politician very, very well.
There is something very cool and slick about the idea of men wearing very trim suits and hats chasing around people attempting to put them back on the track of their life. Of course who better to pull that off than Mad Men alumnus John Slattery, who leads a team trying to stop Norris from meeting Elise and is easily gets the best part in the film, despite being dropped from it all too quickly. A quote on the poster claim that this is “Bourne meets Inception” which it isn’t, and the only real reason the comparison with Inception comes through is due to the endless stream of nameless male characters who just look great in tailored suits. And it does look good, this has the lensing craft of the brilliantly talented John Toll who shot Braveheart and Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.
The notion of this elusive corporation throughout the film does however become more ludicrous when some of the major revelations all become clear. To not give too much away there is a lot of political and metaphysical gesturing. These corporate lackeys all work for the unseen Chairman who is the man or woman who draws out all the plans for everyone on earth, so the major theme of free will versus fate looms very large in the back of this, and as a venture to move the film into deeper territory it is admirable. The reason that it doesn’t wholly work is because the rest of it does balance on becoming silly.
The trailers, rather commendably don’t give much away in regards to plot or what happens within the film. I was surprised, despite the Dick legacy being in my mind, that it was as fantastical as it was but unlike Inception, it was tongue in cheek. I never really took it seriously, the world created by the film doesn’t wholly support the fantasy elements and without wanting to give anything away, the whole idea about the doors is just a tad silly. However that silliness never drew light away from the incredibly involving romance at the centre, the wit and charm with which director George Nolfi maintains that central relationship is what in the end holds the film together. That’s partly down to the writing and partly down to the casting.
On the down side, the film does wrap itself up too quickly there isn’t time to fully engage with everything. Also, all the separate strands are rounded off with a chilly coolness, so there isn’t any allowance for an emotional denouement, it’s neatly wrapped up in about 2 minutes and that’s a shame, because I had invested in the two characters and felt short changed that when we got to the ending, that was kind of it. It is directed by George Nolfi who as a first time director (he’s written movies before this) displays both visual flair, a talent for plotting and a good conductor of chase set pieces. This is a good calling card for him that should get more work for him in the future, and as he is a writer-director I very much look forward to seeing his next move.
On the whole it is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of filmmaking with two great central performances which ground the whole thing, the science fiction fantasy element at times seems like a disjoint to the story and a bit ridiculous but it’s still entertaining. I for one think it is well worth seeing and will probably be enjoyed by most.