Director: George Nolfi
Writers: George Nolfi, Philip K. Dick (short story)
Cinematographer: John Toll
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp
Studio/Running Time: Universal Pictures, 105 min.
While a certain amount of suspended reality is expected, even required, in watching a sci-fi film, there are moments when a filmgoer’s credulity can be stretched too far. The Adjustment Bureau definitely tests those limits in spite of some strong performances.
U.S. senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) cheats fate when he meets Elise, the girl of his dreams. In this case, the word “fate” is not just a poetic notion about destiny. It’s a designed plan implemented by men in hats and sharp suits, men who can spill your coffee and cause you to miss your bus, or kill a phone line to prevent you from making a call. These men of The Adjustment Bureau are all around us, monitoring the world, ensuring that we each follow our personal “planned” fate. But one of the hat men, Harry (too seriously played by Anthony Mackie) makes a mistake that in turn allows Norris enough time to fall for Elise.
For reasons that only later become apparent, the hat men must keep David and Elise apart. So, Agent Richardson (John Slattery) reveals the bureau’s existence to David and takes away his only link to her—her telephone number, and then threatens to erase his mind if he tries to pursue her. David eventually finds her anyway, with the hat men in hot pursuit, and then he loses her again. One of the bureau’s talents is using shortcut doors to quickly travel around Manhattan. Open a door on the far side of town and you can instantly step onto the lawn of the Statue of Liberty. Harry breaks protocol and decides to help David, revealing some of the bureau’s tricks to use in his search.
Damon is enjoyable as a politician who, through past mistakes, reinvents himself, and as a man determined to follow his heart and not the path that is arranged for him. His chemistry with Blunt gives the film an “us against the world” quality and there are some beautifully inspiring moments. As Richardson, Slattery gives a tight, sarcastic performance not unlike his brilliant character in the Mad Men series. However, Terence Stamp’s role as the “big gun” brought in to clean up is entirely too predictable and pompous. (Is it written in Stamp’s contract that he must wear a scarf in every film?)
Maybe it’s simpler to accept breaking the laws of nature when it happens in a dream, like Inception, or in a computer network, like in The Matrix, but The Adjustment Bureau’s corporate hierarchy of a surprisingly incompetent bureaucracy endowed with mystical powers that its agents use to keep the world on track—right here under our noses—is a suspension of disbelief that eventually collapses.