DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: The Adjustment Bureau

Wednesday 6 July 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) dir. George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terrence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, Michael Kelly


By Alan Bacchus

It’s probably the least ‘sci-fi’ of the Philip K. Dick adaptations, and though it’s no Blade Runner or Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau is probably better than Minority Report, Paycheque, Next or any of the other unmemorable Dick stories brought to screen lately.

If it’s a Dick story, we know we’re in for a mind bending, near-future sci-fi high concept scenario. Here, it's the actual physical manifestation of God, or fate, or divine intervention in the form of the 'Adjustment Bureau', a group of hat-wearing suits who have the power to softly change our reality or change our thought processes in order to direct us toward where we are ‘meant to be’.

For David Norris (Damon), a NY politician looking to become a senator, his attraction to a gorgeous ballet dancer, Elise Sellas (Blunt), is cause for the Bureau to intervene. After a chance meeting with Sellas, which wasn’t supposed to happen, Norris’s protective agent/angel, Harry Mitchell (Mackie), is supposed to cause Norris’s coffee to spill, a minor event that is supposed to prevent him from running into Elise again. Somehow this doesn’t happen, which alarms the Bureau suits. When Norris actually catches the Bureau erasing the memory of one of his colleagues he becomes witness to this process of divine intervention. Now the chase is on – Norris fleeing from his apparent destiny.

The first act is difficult to get through. This is the heavy lifting, getting the audience through the high concept scenario and establishing the science fiction rules. There’s much information to get across, which is always a difficult task. Nolfi does his best to give us the ground rules, and even if Matt Damon is the recipient of this information, it’s still a slog to get through. But then Nolfi makes a surprisingly deft turn at the second act and sails his picture along at a quick clip.

Anchored by a genuine love story between David and Elise, we eventually forget we’re watching science fiction. Nolfi’s sci-fi rules are as minimal and real world based as possible. In this middle stretch, David finds himself figuring out ways to use these rules against those chasing him and beat the system that is preventing him from being with Elise. Nolfi even expands his timeframe by jumping months and years in time to show that David’s battle with the Bureau might just be a lifelong fight for love.

Dick was a master of using futuristic concepts to examine profoundly existential, religious and spiritual themes and concepts. In this case, he cleverly spins the idea of fate and free will. Dick and Nolfi celebrate our individuality and present our minds as powerful forces strong enough to oppose the almighty divine. This is the stuff myths, legends, bibles and Kirk Cameron movies are made of. The Adjustment Bureau rarely feels preachy. It’s just a fun romance cum action film with a semi-serious message.

The Adjustment Bureau is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal Home Entertainment.

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