The Adjustment Bureau

This was a lot of fun, definitely one of the better Philip K. Dick-inspired films. It’s not really an SF film, more like a Dickian take on Heaven Can Wait—the adjusters of the title are angels in the guise of corporate bureaucrats, working to implement the divine plan laid down by the Chairman.

Matt Damon is a New York politician who is destined to one day become president. When his senatorial bid is derailed by a minor scandal, the Adjustment Bureau steps in and arranges a chance meeting with a beautiful dancer played by Emily Blunt. For reasons that make sense in the film, the meeting inspires Damon to give a kickass speech that revives his political career and puts the Plan back on track. The thing is, he’s only supposed to meet Blunt the one time (true love, it seems, would quench the fire driving his political ambitions). But owing to an apparently random screw-up, Damon not only does meet Blunt again, he learns about the existence of the adjusters.

Panic time. The bureau agents grab Damon and drag him to an extradimensional room where adjustment team leader John Slattery lays down the rules that will govern the rest of the movie. Rule one is, of course, you don’t talk about the Adjustment Bureau: if Damon tries to tell anyone what he’s learned, he’ll be given what amounts to a lobotomy. Rule two is, forget about the girl. Here the consequences for disobedience are more vague, but it’s clear that the Adjustment Bureau are willing to go to considerable lengths to make sure Damon and Blunt don’t become a couple.

That’s the set-up, and the rest of the film is Damon trying to break rule two without breaking rule one. As I say, it’s a lot of fun—Lisa and I both loved it. Damon and Blunt have the kind of chemistry that makes you believe that they’d be willing to defy heaven itself to be together. John Slattery is hilarious, and Terence Stamp has a nice turn as a heavy-hitting upper management angel who’s brought in after Slattery’s more delicate attempts at fixing things don’t work. And Anthony Mackie does a nice job as a low-level adjuster who takes pity on Damon and decides to help him out, although he’s also the subject of the film’s most unintentionally funny line—that would be where Damon, trying to figure out why Mackie is so nice, asks “What makes you different?” (Here’s a hint: It’s the same thing that made Will Smith different in The Legend of Bagger Vance.)

The one real flaw in the film, for me, is that Blunt’s character is too passive. To a certain extent this is dictated by the set-up: Damon knows about the Adjustment Bureau, Blunt doesn’t, and Damon can’t tell her. So he’s the one making informed decisions, while she’s left reacting to his sometimes inexplicable behavior. The thing is—speaking as a long-time married person here—it’s possible to break rule one without breaking rule one. Lisa and I routinely finish each other’s sentences, so if I were in secret communication with angels I would expect her to pick up on that, even if I didn’t say a word. Damon and Blunt are at a much earlier point in their relationship, but still, she’s smart enough to figure it out and take a more active role in the proceedings, and I think it would have made both her character and the story more interesting if she had. This goes in the category of things that would make a good film even better, but it did bug me, given how well everything else worked.

Anyway, good movie, and Lisa and I are both looking forward to seeing what the director George Nolfi does next.