Based on its trailers and posters, you might think The Adjustment Bureau is sci-fi thriller in the same vein as The Matrix and Inception. It might surprise you to learn that the film is a lighthearted tale of true love with a supernatural twist.
The screenplay is based on the Philip K. Dick story “Adjustment Team,” but the premise—there is a secret organization of mysterious beings that adjusts the fate of humanity according to a higher power—is under-utilized by a predictably sappy plot. Writer-director George Nolfi manages to save the movie with a playful presentation and a quirky sense of humor.
Matt Damon stars as David Norris, a young politician running for Senate, who throws away his early lead with an endearingly juvenile stunt.
On the night of his concession speech, he has what appears to be a chance encounter with beautiful woman named Elise, played by Emily Blunt. The two share a kiss which inspires him to go off-script and deliver a candid speech that repairs his damaged reputation.
We are later introduced to the enigmatic members of the titular Bureau, who dress in drab suits, wear old-fashion hats and have a penchant for standing on top of buildings for no apparent purpose besides looking dramatic.
When bureau agent Harry Mitchell fails to prevent a second meeting between Elise and David, the Bureau descends upon his office in force. The agents freeze time and wipe David’s co-workers’ brains to mitigate the supposedly terrible consequences of his second encounter with Elise.
David tries to escape, only to be blocked by agents at every turn in a fun sequence reminiscent of those Scooby-Doo chases where every door is arbitrarily connected to another. The agents catch David and drag him to a warehouse where agent Richardson, played by John Slattery, explains the purpose of the Bureau to David to keep him from going insane with wonder.
He explains they have been tasked with keeping the world “on plan,” and that his relationship with Elise is at odds with said-plan. The agents destroy Elise’s phone number and threaten to wipe David’s mind if he tells anyone about the Bureau.
David seems completely un-phased by the revelation that a supernatural organization has been puppeteering humanity throughout history. He continues to be an effective worker and promising politician who somehow finds the time to ride the same bus every day.
Three years later, his obsession pays off, and he and Elise pick up where they left off, glossing over the time skip with a couple lines of dialogue. Again, the Bureau attempts to interfere, and again David resists despite dire warnings. Frantic chases, romance, exposition and grave portents ensue.
The dialogue, like the rest of the movie, is a bit spotty. Some of the lines feel over-written or over-wrought, while other conversations are disarmingly natural and genuinely flirtatious.
The exposition is blatant but clear and concise, and it sets up plenty of fun rules for David to exploit in the film’s climax.
The movie is the most fun when David is dashing around New York, dodging the Bureau’s cosmic roadblocks. The film loses its sense of humor in the second half, though, and the fairy tale ending feels forced and shallow.
Damon is in his comfort zone as a charismatic romantic, but he does not mail it in. He also shares a healthy chemistry with Blunt who is convincingly feisty, flirty and vulnerable at the appropriate moments. Anthony Mackie does a good job as the benevolent agent Harry Mitchell and John Slattery is even better as agent Richardson, coming across as a genuinely sympathetic antagonist. Terence Stamp does okay as the more sinister agent Thompson, but the film’s reliance on a more typical bad guy feels like a step backwards.
All in all, The Adjustment Bureau is an entertaining film with an intriguing premise that feels a little simpler than it should.