The Adjustment Bureau
Review by John E. Rogers
Dick stories always make dope flicks, right?
Sorry, I should be clear: That’s Philip K. Dick stories.
Sure, some do. For instance, his brilliant novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was converted by Ridley Scott into the thematically unrecognizable but visually compelling Bladerunner. Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report may have actually been an improvement over the seminal work. Paul Verhoeven’s cartoonish Total Recall (based on We Can Remember it for You Wholesale) was, whatever else can be said of it, at least a scream to watch.
But others falter. Usually the breakdown is on the celluloid side of the equation—because the film makers either don’t get it (Paycheck), or don’t trust it (Impostor).
Here, though, the problem lies on both ends.
Adjustment Team is a tongue-in-cheek science fiction short story written by Dick in 1954 about a standard-issue suburban gent who accidentally glimpses the secret fate-adjusting process that underlies and redirects our lives. That tepid tale might have, arguably, made a mildly amusing joke episode of The Twilight Zone, with maybe Robert Cummings in the lead role.
The Adjustment Bureau, on the other hand, is a deadly serious non-SF film that takes Dick’s minor fate-adjusting idea and re-imagines it as a sort of new age spiritual parable about love conquering all. On the whole, it’s a disappointing combination of low-grade suspense and feel-good pabulum.
Matt Damon and Emily Blunt play incipient lovers whose previously entwined destinies have been forcibly separated by a group of angels in vintage Mad Men get-up, led first by a bored John Slattery (coincidently—or was it fate?—of Mad Men) and then an embarrassed Terence Stamp (The Limey).
It’s always nice to see Stamp, but it would be nicer to see him in better material.
The two primaries are competent, though there is a notable lack of chemistry between them. Blunt looks strangely out of place as a physically expressive ballet dancer. Her presence might be best described as awkwardly elegant. She should be smoking a cigarette in the corner of the ballroom in a brutally revealing gown, eyeing the crowd shrewdly—not twirling at its center. Damon has the charisma to fully realize his character, a limelight-focused rising star politician. But, as with Blunt, he appears to be groping. His true element, I think, is more internalized work —like, say, his outstanding performance as the tormented psychic in last year’s superb Hereafter.
The best turn is by Anthony Mackie as the obligatory angel-with-a-heart-of-gold. His lines are often painful to hear, but he delivers them perfectly. He’s a man to watch.
Damon witnesses a readjustment in progress, and ultimately learns that if he and Blunt stay together neither will achieve their true potential.
Do I even need to say more?
The resolution involves plenty of running, clinging, gasping, hand-holding, magic door-opening, ho-hum location-jumping, stair-climbing, and, just to add insult to injury, library-disturbing.
And hats. Lots of hats. Really important hats.
Oh, yeah and . . . God.
It’s always nice to see God, but it would be nicer to see Him in better material.
God’s not the problem with this film, though He wasn’t part of the original short story. The problem with this thing is that its premise is so ludicrous it hurts
to see it taken seriously. If only first-time director George Nolfi (writer of, most recently, The Bourne Ultimatum) had made this into a comedy, we could chuckle openly at the idiotic pronouncements of the adjustment angels, not shake our heads in dismay.
U.S. Release Date: March 4, 2011
Director: George Nolfi
Screen writer: George Nolfi
Running Time: 106 minutes