The Adjustment Bureau

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The Adjustment Bureau

The previews for the Adjustment Bureau make it seem like a psychological thriller, but one with vaguely Matrix-y overtones.  In reality, this film is a romance in metaphysical thriller drag, and an interesting take on the notion of predetermination.  Based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team,” which I have not read, this film veers away from Dick’s more nihilistic tones (see: Blade Runner) and into ones of overt sweetness, which I imagine are not present in the original story, but were pleasant to witness.

While watching the film play out, our winsome leads Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are compelling and lovely and the machinations of the titular bureau are interesting to watch.  As a work of filmmaking, Adjustment Bureau is sexy and solid and entertaining.  Damon is a credible young politician, driven and charismatic.  Blunt is a graceful but relatable dancer, the Perfect Girl embodied but with aspirations of her own.

The visual tricks that help convey the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Adjusters are simple and effective.  Thomas Newman’s score is reliably lovely to hear and John Toll’s photography is typically gorgeous.  I was amused by the mid-century-yet-timeless feel of the Bureau members and witnessing their petty bureaucratic hierarchies.  The messages of love and possession and release were all good, and the story kept me interested.

That said, once I left the theatre the whole façade fell apart.  I often have this problem with adaptations of Dick stories because for some reason the big ideas never really grow into anything with any solidity for me, which is why I suspect this story veers as above.   When your deus ex machine actually has a deus in it, you know you’ve painted yourself into a corner.

The idea of small moments causing huge ripples in the universe is not a new one.  The idea that there is a Plan, specifically on that undergoes constant revision, is the most compelling thing about the story. The fact that the interfering minions aren’t privy to the Plan was a fun running theme. The notion that the Plan changes but leaves echoes of itself behind (so that what was once meant to be later becomes not so) vexed me, but is integral to the story. An omnipotent, omniscient being running things through discreet micromanaging (a spill of coffee, a dropped phone call) seems both reasonable and ridiculous.

What is the point of all this meddling and greater good power if it is so easily thwarted or redesigned?  It confounded the cool idea that our free will is an illusion, that every time we as a species are left in charge of our destinies, we screw it up — so why respond to our stubbornness by updating the plan?  The film seemed too contradictory to really hold up.

That said, the chemistry and inevitability of Damon and Blunt was sweet to witness and the action as it unfolds is enjoyable to watch.  Rent at your leisure.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 3/4/11

Time in minutes 106

Director George Nolfi

Studio Universal Pictures