Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)


Directed by: George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie

Never judge a presumably awful book by its cover. Not quite the saying we’re all accustomed to hearing, but the alteration is fitting given how I felt and still feel about The Adjustment Bureau‘s remarkably unimpressive ad campaign. Never once coming off as a potentially enthralling piece of science-fiction, the only thing that kept me interested was the involvement of its two favorable leads, yet after an obvious lack of assertiveness during a fateful night at the theater I can honestly say I walked away a bit surprised. The central premise, albeit a tad overbearing and even a bit strange, manages to pique one’s interest as The Adjustment Bureau devolves into a mostly romance-driven and somewhat functional, if not flawed sci-fi thriller.

Adequately touching upon the questionable permanence of free will, George Nolfi’s film debut is stimulating to an extent until it falters under the weight of its own ambition. Sure, the idea of suited otherworldly gentlemen with magical chapeaus controlling your destiny is a bit offbeat, but it functions well enough thanks to Nolfi’s adeptness in explaining just why these individuals exist and what they’re constantly aiming to do for the (supposed) benefit of mankind. What the film fails to do in this regard is expand upon this premise while simultaneously avoiding heavy-handed spiritual undertones; something I wasn’t particularly fond of and began to notice more and more as the film drew nearer to a close.

As enigmatic as these well-dressed mystery men are on the surface, there’s no mistaking what they’re supposed to represent from a purely religious standpoint. This aside, the romance subplot that’s solely responsible for both the film’s shift in focus and the bureau’s increased involvement is interesting enough, but an abundance of action-driven suspense takes away from its initial aura of intelligence. A whole mess of running, heavy breathing and door opening ensues as David and Elise struggle to change their predetermined fate, which is entertaining in its own right, however a predictably uninspired resolution and overdramatized feel further suggest an inability to finish what it started.

Uniformly impressive performances ensure that the little The Adjustment Bureau does right in light of its partial ineptitude remains at the film’s forefront. Emily Blunt, drop dead gorgeous as she may be, comes off as authentic as can be as Matt Damon’s wisecracking, infinitely charming object of desire, and the breezy chemistry that exists between her and her equally admirable male costar is the proverbial glue that holds the project together. You can actually root for these individuals, and although Damon’s Norris and all his glaring, self-destructive stubbornness should suggest an unlikable protagonist, one can’t help but hope everything ends up in the notoriously imperfect politician’s favor. Barely noteworthy turns from a forgettable supporting cast ensure that Blunt and Damon maintain this prowess, and it’s because of their efforts we’re able to partially forgive the blemishes in The Adjustment Bureau‘s uneven narrative.

Industrious as it may be, The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t quite manage to fire on all cylinders. While at first appearing to touch upon the fragility of free will from an overtly fictional and wildly engrossing standpoint, writer/director George Nolfi fails to expand upon this concept without succumbing to romanticized conventions involving a predominant romance between our two leads. Thankfully, said romance doesn’t force all of the film’s stronger suits to take a backseat to it while still allowing Emily Blunt and Matt Damon to steal the show during the film’s latter moments. A solid science-fiction thriller indeed, but one that could have used a bit more polishing in relation to answering the questions it forces us to pose.

Rating: 5/10


2 comments on “Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

  1. Tom Stoup says:

    Iiiiinteresting. I was planning on skipping this due to the lackluster ad campaign you mentioned, but the mixed-to-positive reactions I’m hearing and the whole Philip K. Dick thing may make it a decent rental. Good write-up as usual 🙂

    • afilmodyssey says:

      Thank you kindly. A couple of elements strewn throughout also forced me laugh at how unintentionally funny they were, but that’s to be expected. Most definitely rental material and nothing more.

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