Unfortunately, the majority of buzz surrounding screenwriter George Nolfi’s directorial debut has been comparison to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, rather than judgements of The Adjustment Bureau in its own right. It’s undeniable that the similarities are there – both films revolve around a slightly mind-bending sci-fi premise and attempt to squeeze heart-rending romance and heart-stopping action into one feature.
The Adjustment Bureau (based on a little-known short story by sci-fi great Philip K. Dick), is a what-if story of 1984-esque paranoia. New York congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) discovers that the human race is in fact controlled by a bureau of be-hatted ‘adjusters’ who strive to keep mankind in line with individualised and predestined plans. Norris determinedly deviates from his plan in an unrelenting fight for the ‘woman of his dreams’. Dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) is strictly NOT part of his plan. (Or is she?)
Due to the simple realism of Nolfi’s exquisite script The Adjustment Bureau presents an incredibly convincing love story. Damon’s character quickly becomes infatuated with Elise after what is supposed to be their only encounter – in a men’s bathroom the night he hopes to be elected to senate. This, their first meeting, is one of the strongest scenes of the movie. However, their second meeting, on a New York bus, is also a contender. However, it only happens due to one of the weaker expositions of the plot; the bureau member who was supposed to stop it falls asleep. David and Elise’s easy banter is immediately endearing. It’s these moments which will have audiences rooting for the couple in the film’s final act.
Although Nolfi’s film continues to be amazingly well-written throughout the inevitable ‘I can’t stop thinking about her’ is still included. Perhaps this can be forgiven though, due to the impeccably well-timed action stunts scattered through the film. These highly unexpected moments, such as a high-speed car collision, have the visual power to stop breath in theatres full of unsuspecting viewers. However, it seems likely that the sparse (although excellent) special effects may make this film a disappointment for those who go to see it seeking Bourne-style action scenes.
The concept that this film is based around cannot escape being labelled with the term magic realism. Members of the bureau controlling human life can open any door (as long as they turn the handle clockwise and wear a special hat) and travel across the city at impossible speeds. Thanks to an adjuster with more compassion than the rest combined, David is able to take advantage of this intricate set-up in order to outrun his own fate. This creates one of the faster-paced scenes; a supernatural labyrinthine chase across New York to the film’s culmination.
In retrospect the film’s opening seems mundane in comparison with the later excitement. More time is spent in establishing David and Elise as a potential couple than in conveying their career ambitions, the result being that their being together dwarfs the significance of David’s political climb or Elise’s creative achievement.
On the other hand, David’s status as a politician does create an interesting comparison with the adjusters; both are in control of the fates of others. To further the George Orwell mood, the negative attitudes towards the bureau make a criticism of the selfish nature of modern politics. But David Norris ultimately chooses love over power, invoking a sense of hope and continuing the romance element of the story.
Nolfi neatly draws human and super-human forces together for a just-too convenient ending, but it seems likely audiences will excuse the predictability due to high emotional involvement thanks to the skills of the lead actors.
The highly relatable human fear of external control is also likely to make this film a success. Ongoing philosophic debates (free will/determinism and emotion/reason) are approached in terms of conveying a narrative, making them more accessible themes for wide audiences. However, if the film was less self-aware in declaring these ideas it would perhaps be more powerful and thought-provoking.