It’s got Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terence Stamp, John Slattery and others. It’s based on a Philip K. Dick story. It features a capable cinematographer and able director (George Nolfi). So why is THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU not really very good?
Let me amend that — THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is perfectly alright. The rough outlines of the plot are fine: a politician is thunderstruck in love with a quirky ballet dancer, but the forces of Fate conspire to keep them apart, quite literally — fedora-sporting agents make ‘adjustments’ to people’s lives to make sure the overall plan stays on track. When Damon’s politician finds that Fate does not want him to be with the ballet dancer, he rebels and the two lovebirds are on the run against the conspiring adjustment agents. On paper it sounds like the ideal movie: a sci-fi action movie with a grand romance at its center with serious existential questions.
But a few shortcomings cripple the film and it never lives up to the promise of its component parts. First, the romance doesn’t quite gel. That’s probably Damon’s fault. Blunt is quirky and loveable onscreen (at least for the first half of the film — more on that later), but Damon just doesn’t seem capable of showing real affection on-screen and instead seems to accept the notion of being in love at face value rather than demonstrating it.
Second, the film is afraid of its themes. Issues of free will vs. fate, divine intervention and determinism… these are big issues and we never get at the heart of them. Instead the film melts into a generic chase movie and the big issues are given lightweight resolution (complete with an incredibly stupid moral of the story, delivered via voiceover narration). I have the feeling that Dick would be unhappy with how breezy this movie treats his themes.
Third, everything ended up in unfortunate cliches. Anthony Mackie, introduced as a conflicted agent of destiny, ultimately sinks into stereotypes that resurrect Will Smith’s role in THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE. Emily Blunt’s character — who is supposed to be this headstrong, quirky rebel character — completely melts into the standard damsel in distress, the person in the chase scenes who doesn’t quite know what is going on but follows her man devotedly and helplessly. It’s disappointing.
That said, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is not an awful movie. Many will enjoy it. It does try to give romance and action and thought, and even if it never gives those in any spectacular measure it’s still a decent effort. It’s just not as intriguing, emotionally involving or exciting as it deserves.