Can you defy fate? If given the option of having a successful career or being with the person you love most, which would you choose? This quandary forms the centre of first time director George Nolfi’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s short story The Adjustment Team, a romance by way of science fiction that explores just how important the choices we make can define us.
Matt Damon (Hereafter) is David Norris, a young and ambitious politician on the brink of winning a seat in the U.S Senate. During one of his election rallies he meets contemporary dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt, Gulliver’s Travels) with whom he makes an immediate connection revealing a yearning for companionship he had never truly felt. When they meet, by chance, for a second time the connection is cemented and David realises that he is falling for her.
However he comes under the attention of the mysterious Adjustment Bureau who conspire to keep David and Elise apart as they have grand plans for David, and a relationship with Elise would ruin his future.
Nolfi understands that simple, unobtrusive direction enhances actors’ performances
Despite the pre-release press advocating such comparisons such as “Inception meets Bourne“, there is little that The Adjustment Bureau has in common with either of those films and to assume so may create false expectations. It carves out its own identity, a love story by way of a philosophical debate on the nature of free will.
Nonetheless in spite of its sci-fi trappings the film relies on the chemistry of its two leads and both perform admirably. Damon is believable as a young politician unwilling to sacrifice a chance at being happy for a thriving political career. Blunt fares well too, radiating beauty and a sense of physicality in her performance. Her character is memorable for her slightly kooky attitude, a free spirit that finds a similar longing within Damon’s Norris.
Importantly Nolfi understands that simple, unobtrusive direction enhances actor’s performances, letting the camera focus on Damon and Blunt in scenes that demand the audience believe in them. The chemistry generated fizzles as they make inroads into each others’ lives before The Adjustment Bureau appear to tear them apart.
Interestingly the look and behaviour of The Adjustment Bureau brings to mind a group of existential G-Men replete with trilbies – a sort of Sixties vibe infiltrating a film with a modern feel. While the film does try and lever the romance with some philosophical debate on the nature of free will, you feel as if it is never its remit to fully uncover the spiritualist tone evident in the original story.
The Adjustment Bureau convinces as both a romance and a sci-fi
Featuring adept supporting work from Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), John Slattery (Iron Man 2) and Terrence Stamp (Get Smart), the Bureau navigate the world through a series of interlocking doorways making good use of New York locations imbuing the realistic tone with some more fantastical frills. Whether they are mystical beings or angels from on-high is never revealed, keeping them mysterious and adding to the sense of Norris fighting against impossible forces.
It is not all star-crossed lovers or philosophical debate on free will versus determinism. There are moments of comedy, but the film does wander in its final third, trying to sum up its story in a way that comes across as a bit slight, ending on a satisfactory if slightly perfunctory note.
Regardless The Adjustment Bureau convinces as both a romance and a sci-fi, and although it may not have the conviction to fully explore its ideas up until its end, Damon and Blunt’s performances more than make up for its third act’s shortcomings.