If I were to break out my Clever Movie Critic’s Big Book of Witticisms, I would use it to describe “The Adjustment Bureau” as “The Matrix: A Love Story,” leave the review at that and spend the rest of the day in Margaritaville.
But I won’t do that, and not just because my editors would lock me in the secret dungeon they keep beneath the newsroom. “The Adjustment Bureau” is actually worthy of more than a simple, dismissive summarization as it stands as a strong entry into the very small science fiction/romance genre.
The movie stars Matt Damon as up-and-coming politician David Norris. When we first meet David, he is running for Senate when he has a chance, bathroom encounter with the beautiful and charming Elise, played by Emily Blunt.
The two immediately hit it off, but Elise runs away before David can get her phone number. Not long after this David quite accidentally discovers the Adjustment Bureau at work when he arrives at his office to find all of his co-workers frozen and his business partner having his head scanned by a group of fedora-wearing gentlemen.
It is revealed that the Bureau has the job of making little tweaks and changes to people’s lives in order to keep humanity on the track of a predetermined “plan.” David is threatened with total memory erasure if he reveals the existence of the group and is told he must never see Elise again as she is not a part of his chosen path.
Not one to take no for an answer, David doggedly pursues Elise even though the entirety of the universe is working to keep them apart.
While “The Adjustment Bureau” brings up such super-weighty themes as free will vs. predestination, it isn’t really interested in digging much deeper into philosophy than an eighth-grade slumber party would.
The simple fact of the matter is that this is a love story, and like any great dramatic love story there needs to be obstacles the couple must overcome before they live happily ever after. Sure David and Elise’s obstacles are a little more freaky-deaky than your typical romantic-comedy couple has to deal with, but that’s part of what makes “The Adjustment Bureau” such a fun ride.
The movie is based on a short story by sci-fi author Philip K. Dick whose work typically takes on a much bleaker outlook. Expect more smiles and warm fuzzies than you got when watching “Blade Runner” or “Total Recall.” “The Adjustment Bureau” is the directorial debut of George Nolfi who made his name as the screenwriter of movies like “Ocean’s Twelve” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
Nolfi makes the transition to the director’s chair quite nicely as he manages to strike the perfect tone and pacing throughout the film. The movie’s not loaded with special effects but still finds clever ways to be visually formidable and there are even a few nifty action sequences with chases around New York City through magical doorways that drastically cut the distance between Point A and Point B.
But as much credit as Nolfi deserves for pulling this movie together, equal praise should go to the cast. There is a certain nobility to the members of the Adjustment Bureau (peopled with such fine actors as Anthony Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp) that makes you sympathetic to their cause, even as they are trying to squash true love.
Damon and Blunt have the requisite amount of chemistry as Blunt strongly makes the case that after a few minutes of flirting you would easily be willing to defy heaven and earth for her as well.
As far as sci-fi flicks go, “The Adjustment Bureau” isn’t exactly mind-blowing; but it does receive points for being heartwarming and romantic, which is a frontier few science fiction movies have boldly gone before.
The Adjustment Bureau is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.