As far as thrillers go, The Adjustment Bureau is a likable contraption built out of second-hand pieces. There is a distinct air of familiarity to some of the movie's plot developments, and there are definitely aspects that play goofier than writer/director George Nolfi probably intended, yet, the movie succeeds on the amount of investment that he and the actors (and, by extension, the audience) are able to have in the characters' fates. In the scheme of things, it's a minor success, but also an excellent example of a film that's more than the sum of its parts.
Matt Damon plays David Norris, a frontrunner in the New York City mayor's election. On the night of the election, while preparing to give an unexpected concession speech, he meets a beautiful woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) in the men's restroom, who turns his mood around entirely in less than five minutes. When he returns to the podium, he gives a different speech than he expected, one that revitalizes his political persona and gives him a chance to run again. Three years later, he climbs aboard a city bus and sees Elise again, but when he returns to his office, he discovers a team of mysterious men who claim to be "adjusters" (led by John Slattery). Their job is to make sure David stays on the right track, and Elise is not part of that track.
There's a wealth of ideas lurking within the movie's premise, primarily concerning the domino or butterfly effect one thing has on another, and how little it takes to change things, but Nolfi is not concerned with making a science fiction film. Instead, he positions Bureau as more of a fateful romance, albeit one that someone is determined to prevent. Early on, the script also struggles with how omnipotent and powerful the "adjusters" should be, evidenced by an awkward sequence in which David rushes across town, looking for Elise's dance studio. Other aspects of the adjustment team come off as overly B-movie or silly; including most of their overwritten dialogue.
However, Damon and Blunt are both invested, generating a believable bond that survives through the characters' various separations, gaps, and setbacks. Although it may not be organic (it's an aspect that might've been covered in reshoots or editing), Nolfi is wise to build the movie around their relationship, finding the right notes to elevate it beyond some cheesy notion of "true love" to the level of free will without pounding the message into the audience's head. The pair gets excellent support from Anthony Mackie and the always-appreciated Terence Stamp as additional adjusters, culminating in a second, superior chase sequence that spans from Yankee Stadium to the Statue of Liberty.
Movies these days are all about tell and less about show, and The Adjustment Bureau, when it stumbles, is not subtle, but Nolfi, Damon and Blunt manage to underplay the film's central themes of choice vs. fate with a light touch that effectively lifts the expected mood of a Philip K. Dick adaptation. Nolfi's film is about the human spirit, a subject that could easily become as cheesy as the adjustor's dialogue, but, like David, are driven by honest, organic feelings, rather than the cynical mechanations of the Hollywood happy ending machine.
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