THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (12A): On General Release Friday 4th March
It won’t be long before Philip K Dick’s entire back catalogue has been adapted for screen. His books have given us some of cinema’s most memorable films including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report and, uh, Paycheck. They’re usually stories of government conspiracies where those in power pull invisible strings to manipulate the actions of its populace. The Adjustment Bureau is no different.
It stars Matt Damon as David Norris, a charismatic young politician running for the governor of New York. He looks sure to win: he’s young, popular and down to earth but when a college prank surfaces in the media his ratings plummet. He meets a young woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) and she inspires him to give a rousing concession speech which paves the way for future election.
On the way to work the next day, he arrives to find his colleagues frozen in time and a team of operatives scanning them. Panicking, he runs out of the room only for the Adjustment Bureau to catch him and explain that he’s seen something he wasn’t meant to and furthermore, he can never see Elise again as it’s against “The Plan” – a divinely inspired pre-determined path that the Bureau protects at all costs.
But when a chance meeting throws David and Elise together again, he decides to rebel against the Bureau’s wishes and becomes determined to overthrow whatever obstacles they put in his way.
If anything The Adjustment Bureau is a good advert for Matt Damon to go into politics – he’s got a gift for oratory and he has charisma oozing out of his pores. He has great chemistry with Emily Blunt whose sharply written lines and witty comebacks quickly establish she’s not going to be a pathetic ingénue to him to fawn over but actually a believable human being. It’s here where the film shines – their relationship is convincing, lively and they’re both likable enough to make an audience care what happens to them.
But while the idea of government conspiracies is intriguing (it’s why we keep coming back to them time and time again), the film is let down by its focus on all things lovey dovey at the expense of the more serious (and arguably much more interesting) metaphysical issues underpinning the Bureau’s existence – that of free will, destiny and fate – and an inconsistency with over what the Bureau can and can’t do.
The extent of the Bureau’s powers is never fully explained – agents can make phones ring, divert taxis and even stop time and has supposedly steered the entire course of human history – but is seemingly unable to deal with one man and a stolen hat. That’s not to say that we should expect a treatise on the background mechanics – such a diversion would detract from the film’s admirably fast pace, but a decent thriller should enable you suspend disbelief until after the credits, not while the scenes are actually happening.
The Bureau also has a frustrating lack of motivation. One agent in particular (Anthony Mackie) takes a sympathetic view of David’s plight, disobeying his orders and actively aiding him against his bosses but no reason is ever given for why he does this. Is he disgruntled with the way things are run? Does he not trust “The Chairman”? In addition, none of the other agents question their orders so when the Plan inevitably swings in our hero’s favour, it doesn’t feel like an achievement but a cop out for a film that struggling to find an ending while descending into the slushiest of romantic clichés.
Despite the tendency for holes to appear in the plot like a moth-eaten cardigan, The Adjustment Bureau’s pace and the chemistry of its two leads make this an entertaining but disappointingly shallow Friday night thriller.