Writer-director George Nolfi’s “The Adjustment Bureau” presents an intriguing concept: What if everything you did was all part of a pre-written plan and if you went off that path an unknown force would step in and make small changes or “adjustments” to get you back on that path?
I imagine that must be a difficult job, having to spend your whole life tracking someone else’s. Chasing them through the streets to make sure they do something that will ultimately affect everything else they do.
But hey, at least you get a cool Fedora hat out of it. A hat that allows you to speed travel from one location to the next using regular doors and make small adjustments with the flick of your hand. I want to get one of those. I wonder if the Bureau is hiring.
Much like “Inception,” the concept of the film is sure to make you think about it long after you have left the theater and that’s a sign that the film has strength. And like “Inception,” “The Adjustment Bureau” is a bit of a head scratcher. It requires you to pay close attention to it the whole way through so that you can figure out how everything happens.
The film, based on a 1954 short story “The Adjustment Team” by Phillip K Dick (who also wrote “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report”) has a solid sci fi premise that brings back similar Big Brotheresque themes (someone is always watching you) and puts them in a modern looking New York city setting.
It revolves around David Norris (played by Matt Damon), a candidate for Congress who one day sees something he shouldn’t have seen. The Bureau at work. Now they’re on his case and don’t want him to fall in love with a dancer he just met named Elise (Emily Blunt) because it’s not in his plan. But he’s not going to give up so quickly, so he decides to break the rules and be with her at all costs. Which means plenty of running scenes and cheesy remarks such as “all I have are the decisions I make.”
Even though the agency is a major part of the film they don’t get very developed. Nolfi needed to explore their backstory in more depth. At one point a member of the agency named Thompson (creepily played by Terrence Stamp) tells Norris that the Bureau is here because they don’t trust humanity to make good decisions on their own, and when left on their own they do bad things like World War 2. This is an interesting bit of information but you want to know more about the Bureau. Like when did they first come about? Or where do their members come from? and more importantly, what they are exactly?
Toward the beginning of the film, another agent named Richards (Tom Slattery) says that they can’t control every single person in the world but then how do they decide who to control? And could it affect someone else’s plan? And where did they get those awesome hats? At 105 minutes there isn’t enough time to go into any of that.
The biggest surprise of the film was how funny and screwball it was. Usually these kinds of movies are overly intense and serious, but Nolfi incorporates a lot humor into the script. Like when David enters his office building (right before he discovers the Bureau) and doesn’t notice that everyone is frozen. It’s like Nolfi acknowledges the silliness of the film and goes with it and in that regard the film is enjoyable.
But considering the fact that we don’t find out much about the mysterious agency or their awesome hats, that’s not saying much.