Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)


It’s rare to see films like The Adjustment Bureau made nowadays. It speaks to an older form of filmmaking that believed a neat concept combined with strong actors was enough to make a good movie. Most films nowadays eschew the good idea – and often the good actors as well – relying heavily on sensory overload to carry you through the plot proceeding. The Adjustment Bureau is not one of those films. It relies on its intriguing concept and the irresistible chemistry between its leads to pull you into a story of true love in a sci-fi-lite universe. David Norris (Matt Damon) is a congressman running for Senate. Right before giving his concession speech on the day he loses the election, he bumps into ballerina Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in the men’s washroom of a ritzy hotel. Although sparks of true love fly between the two, mysterious men in fedoras known as “adjusters” act to keep them apart, causing David and Elise to strive to stay together as their very fate is rewritten to keep them apart. The Adjustment Bureau is essentially a story of love at first sight, but unlike many films that rely upon this classic convention, the romance between David and Elise seems authentic. The scene where they meet in the hotel washroom is romantic and spontaneous, containing a dynamic spark in its dialogue and performances. This spark between the actors continues throughout the movie, acting as the foundation upon which the rest of the film is built; had the actors’ chemistry together been any less than electric, the strive against fate that the film is about would’ve been lessened and the film’s proceedings seen as meaningless. Luckily, the romance remains strong throughout the film; it is a genuine romance written for adults and seems real despite its use of classical love conventions.

The Adjustment Bureau’s science fiction trimming is the film’s weakest aspect. Although the idea of the Bureau itself is neat and lends a paranoid interest to the film’s proceedings – it is based off a Philip K. Dick short story – the explanations given at the end of the film fall short of the idea’s potential. Although an ambiguity is maintained throughout, writer-director George Nolfi should have refused to offer any answers to resolve the Bureau’s ambiguity and fully embraced the idea of the Bureau as a plot convention used to keep David and Elise apart. As demonstrated by science fiction shows like Lost, the answer given will always fail to satisfy the mystery. Regardless, the casting of Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and Terence Stamp as the adjusters, and the decision to have them dress in snazzy old-fashioned suits and fedoras assured the film excellent acting in these enigmatic roles and a striking, unique style.

It’s surprising that The Adjustment Bureau’s most successful element is its romance. The film’s brisk pace and crisp cinematography do much to hold the audience’s interest and although the intrigue of the science fiction aspects are not completely deflated by the film’s inconsistencies, it is the well-written, adult romance of David and Elise that makes the film worthwhile. Although The Adjustment Bureau is not without its flaws, its intriguing concept and strong performances make it a rare adult romance in a genre populated by childish mediocrity.

7 out of 10

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Written and directed by George Nolfi; starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Anthony Mackie.