Written PostJosh Reviews The Adjustment Bureau!

Josh Reviews The Adjustment Bureau!

I’m always intrigued, but a bit worried, when I hear that another Philip K. Dick story is being turned into a movie.  Many adaptations of Mr. Dick’s work have been pretty horrid, and even the ones that are great (such as Total Recall and Blade Runner) tend to diverge pretty far from the source material.  But the promise of one of Mr. Dick’s short stories being used as the basis for the script, along with an intriguingly talented cast, piqued my interest in the new film, The Adjustment Bureau.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, a young, hot-shot rising-star politician who, nevertheless, has just lost the race for the New York Senate seat.  In the moments before he’s to give his concession speech, he meets a beautiful young dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt) in the bathroom.  She’s hiding out from security in the men’s room because she just crashed a wedding in the same building.  Sparks immediately fly between the two, and she inspires David to give a surprising off-the-cuff speech that  almost immediately begins to revive his political career.  When the two meet again soon thereafter, bumping into one another on a city bus, it’s clear that they have a powerful connection.  But almost immediately David finds himself confronting a mysterious group of men who seem determined to keep the two apart.  These men are the Adjustment Bureau.  They claim to be the instruments of a higher power, helping to keep people on their proper paths.  They warn David that he and Elise are not fated to be together, and that if he does not let her go, the consequences will be disastrous for them both.

For a film based on a story by Philip K. Dick (his 1954 tale Adjustment Team), the film is actually surprisingly light on the science fiction.  It’s really more of a fantasy about belief and faith and fate than it is a sci-fi adventure.  That’s not in any way a criticism.  The film incorporates the fantastic with a fairly light touch, keeping the focus squarely on David’s real-world emotions and his struggle to find a way out of the impossible situation in which he finds himself.

The glimpses we were given into how the Adjustment Bureau functions were fun — just tantalizing enough to leave us intrigued but not bogged down by exposition.  I loved the look of their books (which map individuals’ destinies), and I thought that their system of traveling incredible distances in the blink of an eye through doors that they could turn into portals across the globe was cool (even if the thunder of this device was stolen slightly by Monsters, Inc. — still, Mr. Dick’s story came first!).  There are a few silly moments in which the Bureau was given silly “oh, my green power ring is powerless against the color yellow” type weaknesses, just so that David has a fighting chance (Their abilities are impaired by water!  They can only access their transportation network of doors when wearing their hats!  Etc…) but overall I was pleased that the film didn’t dwell too much on the mechanics of how these agents of the Almighty operate.  What’s important is that we buy who they are and what they can do.

That’s because the center of the film is, wisely, is on Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.  Both are believably flawed human beings, yet likable enough that we invest in their relationship, and we feel the horrible cruelty of David’s being told that if he’s with Elise it will destroy both their lives.  I wouldn’t say that this film causes either of them to stretch too dramatically as actors, but both are entirely convincing and engaging.  And quite beautiful specimens to look at!

The Adjustment Bureau itself is filled out by some wonderful actors as well.  John Slattery (Mad Men‘s Roger Sterling) brings fun-to-watch world weariness to the role of Richardson, the head of the team assigned to the David Norris case.  Anthony Mackie (so impressive in The Hurt Locker) brings quiet strength and humanity to the role of Harry Mitchell, the Adjustment Bureau member whose affection for David and his father causes him to doubt his assigned duties.  Then there is the great Terence Stamp (“Kneel before Zod!”) himself as Thompson, the tough “fixer” brought in when the initial Adjustment team fails to keep David from questing to be with Elise.  It’s always great to see Mr. Stamp on-screen, and he brings enormous presence to his performance.  Even when speaking very softly, we can sense the great power and menace behind his words.

This isn’t a film that’s going to set the world on fire.  But it’s a fascinating, sweet story that I found quite enjoyable from start to finish.  It might not be Blade Runner, but it sure as heck ain’t Impostor, and thank heaven for that!