Cast: David Norris (Matt Damon), Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), Harry (Anthony Mackie), Richardson (John Slattery)
Director: George J. Nolfi
Theatrical release: 03/11/2011 DVD Date: 06/21/2011
Rating: PG-13 Running Time: 106 minutes
Note(s): Screenplay adapted from the short story Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick.
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Review: What happens when you discover that the life you've been living has been carefully planned by someone else … and that your future is also in their hands? That the choices you've made and will make are the result of subtle — and sometimes not so subtle — changes in your environment initiated by a third party? This is the premise of The Adjustment Bureau, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (which I have not read).
There are parts of this film that I really like, but let's start with what doesn't work. Matt Damon is fine as politician David Norris, but I never once bought into the relationship he has with dancer Elise Sellas. Part of the problem for me is that I generally don't buy into the "love at first sight" concept that is the foundation of this film. They have an instant mutual attraction when they first meet, but when David walks away from the relationship without a word — he later explains to her that he lost her contact information — you have to ask yourself, in this day and age, if she wanted to see him, why didn't she simply follow up with him? As a wildly popular public official, it's not as if she couldn't find him. So right away, the relationship is totally one-sided — the onus is completely on him to take the initiative — and for two people who supposedly love each other, that seems terribly wrong.
I also didn't think the whole alternate universe concept was explained very well, and in some ways, I thought it completely unnecessary. In the film, there are special doorways that act as shortcuts between places, but you have to be wearing a hat — apparently any hat will do — and you have to open them in a counterintuitive manner and they can't be near water. Or maybe water somehow inhibits the process. Or something like that. I never did quite catch on. But other than making for some interesting visuals, the whole point of these shortcut doorways was lost on me.
What I did appreciate is the notion that life can be reduced to a series of events that can be predicted based on the probability of the outcome of an either/or choice. This is explored a bit in the film, but I would have liked to have seen it be more of a major factor. For example, at one point someone is supposed to cause David to spill coffee on his shirt. When that happens, two things can happen: he can continue on, or he can go back and change into a clean shirt. Probability suggests that, as long as he isn't running late, he'd return to change. And if he did that, it would cause him to perform a different set of actions through the day. That's the role of the Adjustment Bureau, to cause these little life altering events so that the person being affected follows a different pathway, one pre-determined for them.
I also like the fact that the members of the Adjustment Bureau are not omnipotent and are somewhat "human". In the film, the agent who is supposed to bump David, causing him to spill his coffee, dozes off waiting for him to pass by and misses performing the task. (An aside: After he realizes his mistake, it isn't at all clear why the agent didn't use one of the magic doorways to get ahead of David, instead of pointlessly running behind the bus he catches.) So even in the world of the Adjustment Bureau defining a person's life isn't perfect, and subsequent adjustments need to be made to ensure that the person continues to follow the path assigned to them.
Of course, since this film is basically a romantic thriller, love has to conquer all, and as a consequence the ending is ever so predictable. While totally expected, it's still a bit of a disappointment that the writers couldn't have come up with something a bit more clever.
The Adjustment Bureau is well paced and has a good look to it. But on balance, the missed opportunities to develop an innovative storyline and the negative aspects in how that same storyline plays out slightly outweigh the positives aspects of the film.