Movie Review Monday: The Adjustment Bureau

Mike Finkelstein was supposed to go to a Broadway play Friday night in the city.  Then, he saw a bunch of guys wearing fedoras and suddenly decided to change his plans to a movie.  Thanks to that quick choice (made entirely by free will), here is his review of “The Adjustment Bureau”

PLOT: David Norris (Matt Damon), an up and coming politician, meets Elise, the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt). The only problem is that she is not part of his carefully designed “life plan” maintained by the angel-like “Adjustment Bureau”.  After being exposed to the wizard behind the curtain, David pits himself against the entire bureau, including agents Richardson (John Slattery) and Thompson (Terence Stamp), and does everything he can to try and outrun their life resets and be with Elise for good.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is a movie that seemed to be well overexposed by its single trailer that played in front of almost every single recent movie that came out.  And yet, for some reason, I still wanted to see it…was it because of Matt Damon or Emiliy Blunt?  Or maybe because of the idea of a scifi/romance?  Or maybe it was just because of those awesome fedoras that everyone seemed to wear…

Whatever the reason may be, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU turned out to be a pretty damn good time at the theatre.  From the previews, you get the impression that the movie is a sci-fi/dimension swapping thriller with a romantic background.  Turns out it’s actually the opposite.  Here, the romance takes the lead with some interesting sci-fi and fate/free will topics thrown in, begging the question “What happens when you love someone, but literally EVERYONE, including the man upstairs, says no?”

For a first time director, George Nolfi does a great job with a very original premise.  (He adapted this screenplay from a short Philip K. Dick story that really doesn’t have much in common with the final product.)   After writing and producing THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (among others), I think the man has developed a very good feel for the camera and used it well to tell his story.  When we first see David Norris, Nolfi gives us wide shots to show his isolation, only to get close up every time he runs into Elise.  Whenever The Adjustment Bureau had control, everything was stagnant and motionless, only to give way to steady cams and dolly shots for anything chaiotic and the big chase around the city.  Oh, and speaking of the city, New York looked crisp and almost Zion-ish with its colors.  Anyone who lives there will tell you that’s not exactly a realistic portrayal, but I loved how beautiful Nolfi was able to make my city look, and it made me feel proud to be a New Yorker.

However, let’s rewind and switch back to that romance thing we mentioned earlier…Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are the reason this film works so well.  You could see the bad boy gone good in Damon, and Blunt is nothing but sweet.  From the first time they meet on screen, you feel the chemistry ringing between David and Elise.  They’re fun and playful like two kids, and are completely exposed to each other (which, as you will see, for David is not something that comes easily).  After the movie finished, my friend and I realized that they literally spent a total of four days together, and yet we believed so powerfully in their love and wanted them to be together.  In the hands of lesser actors, I don’t think the impact would have been felt as much, but the chemistry was spot on, and I guarantee you, you will catch yourself smiling at how cute they are together more than once.

As for the rest of the cast, we have a great supporting group in the form of fedora wearing John Slattery, Terrance Stamp and Anthony Mackie.  Slattery was intimidating as Richardson, the first official of the Bureau threatening David, and yet he was able to pull an entire 180 when you see how he reacts to being called into the Chairman’s office.  Anthony Mackie was also great as the guardian angel type who has been with David since he was a boy.  Obviously, for someone who has been watching over a person that long, there is a parental bond/protection there, and Mackie pulls it off beautifully.  However, I have to say it was obviously Stamp who takes the cake here.  He could play roles as silly as the ones in YES MAN and MY BOSS’S DAUGHTER, and still pulls off a human snake.  He owns the few scenes that he’s in.

With all this praise, there was something about THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU that did bother me.  I had a great time, and I could watch it again, but at times, the movie seemed almost generic.  There was enough explanation about the bureau and rules that made this world seem real, but at the same time, there wasn’t enough to give any definite answers.  Also, David had the entire world against him, and yet when it came to real threats, it seemed like there was always a trapped door for him (literally) to run into.  While it was exciting to see David and Elise run, I never really had any doubt that they’d end up together, and without that risk to make the movie stand out, it’s just going to end up blending in with other films over time.

Overall, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU was a good time at the movies.  In a world of sequels and remakes, let this one be your escape.  It has its intricate world of sci-fi wires and ripples, but also at the core, a beautiful story of love and determination that may spark a nice debate about free will later at dinner.  While it may not be a classic in the future years, I got my money worth and a good conversation about fate.  A chase movie that makes you think is rare, and that in itself deserves a look.


Mike’s LIKES:

1) THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU: A very cool concept for the ‘keepers of the universe’.  Whether they’re guardian angels or just completely separate entities, we don’t fully know, but with their slick overcoats, fedoras, and jumping space and time, I approve.

2) SCI-FI AND ROMANCE: I went in expecting a very heavily based sci-fi flick, and came out with a romance instead.  Just enough of a balance between the two, and took the idea of fighting to be with someone to a whole new level.

3) CHEMISTRY: Matt Damon and Emily Blunt knock it out of the park here.  The two fit together so well that we honestly cannot see them with anyone else, even after two fateful meetings…

4) HARRY: Anthony Mackie is just cute as David’s caseworker.  They say that caseworkers live a lot longer than humans, and we definitely get that personal caretaker vibe from Harry.  You know he’s been watching him a long time, and we feel the love.

5) DOOR JUMPING: I’m a huge sucker for anything relating to time travel or dimensions.  This concept was a new one, and I just had fun with it all, especially well used cameo of Yankee Stadium.


1) NOT TOO MUCH EXPLANATION: While we get a basic idea of the hierarchy of the Bureau, we never get a fully detailed view of how it works.  Granted, it’s not necessary by any means, but it would have been cool if Nofli was able to come up with a detailed system that worked.

2) SOMETHING SEEMED GENERIC: This is a big one, and I can’t tell why.  Maybe it was because of the ending or because of the lack of explanation mentioned above, but I don’t see this movie as being a classic.  I see it as being a good movie on Matt Damon’s IMDb, and nothing else.

1) The story is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story “Adjustment Team”.

2) Shots were planned in advance with storyboards but often changed when shooting to fit the conditions on the day rather than worrying about everything being exact. The visual plan for the film was to keep the camerawork smooth using a dolly or crane and have controlled formal shots when the Adjustment Bureau was in full control, with things becoming more loose and using hand held cameras when the story becomes less controlled.

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