Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Stars: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Michael Kelly, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Terrence Stamp

Director: George Nolfi

Based on the Philip K.Dick story “Adjustment team”

Plot: David Norris (Matt Damon) is on the verge of being elected senator of New York when by “chance” he meets Elise (Emily Blunt). They are soon separated to only again be reunited by chance. By chance he encounters the adjusters who inadvertently reveal themselves, and David is told that he is to never see Elise again – ever; because “it matters”. 

David is not so easily deterred and fights to change the plan laid out for him and outrun the hat wearing men of The Adjustment Bureau in order to be with the woman he loves.


I was expecting The Adjustment Bureau to be dark and sinister, instead it turned out to be  a meaningful cross – genre, uplifting love story which wasn’t very sinister at all; which leads us to question the choices we make and events of chance or fate that adjust our ‘plan’ every day.

The part Sci-Fi, part love story between  Senator elect Norris and contemporary dancer Elise starts with a chance meeting in a men’s room; not so curious when we find the free-spirited gal is gate-crashing a party. The chemistry of this first encounter and the following charming, witty and convincing chance encounters immediately elevate our belief in the romance and allows us to invest care in our would be lovers from the start. This makes The Adjustment Bureau work best as a love story; Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are great together as the beautiful, but thankfully unpolished and believable lovebirds. Further events of chance, fate and intervention by “the people who make sure things go according to plan” conspire to pull apart and push our lovers together.

The inevitable head scratching and guesswork starts when we cross genres and first meet ‘Mad men’s’ John Slattery and Anthony Mackie as the initially one dimensional chase-giving men from the bureau; tasked to “nudge” Norris back in the right direction. The later entrance of the superb Terrence stamp as the quite ruthless ‘Thompson’ brings some overdue peril and even grander revelations about “the appearance of free will”.

It is here where this hybrid could have gone very wrong, but first time director Nolfi manages to succeed in the mixing of Sci-fi and love story as he ultimately does both very well; binding the two with important thought provoking themes, engaging and often charming screenplay and strong characterisation; in particular Mackies’ portrayal as the “case officer” with a heart.

Comedy is provided curiously and possibly unintentionally at times by the suits of The Bureau. Often haphazard, often just negligent in their supposed really important roles, they are one minute virtually superhuman, the next quite inept. Either way, their human like frailties makes for some genuinely funny moments and also leads us to care for them too, when they too question their own sense of right and wrong and the choices they make.

Director and screenwriter George Nolfi sets a solid pace throughout and keeps our attention with some well-timed, but slightly predictable reveals and solid direction, with some beautifully framed shots. The neat score compliments the on screen action well.

Fate, chance and the question of how much free will we are truly afforded run through ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ and it is these themes that really give meaning to our protagonists struggle to evade the supposed plan. Every choice has always been and always will be of consequence, every act has repercussions and events can often be fateful.  Even random chance events have great resonance, chance seemingly being far more influential than any supposed predetermined plan. The film and the mixed genre experiment works because of these themes as we too begin to question for ourselves and not just follow what transpires on screen. Everything we do causes a “ripple” and you will be left with one big question – “24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case – coincidence?”

I WAS expecting The Adjustment Bureau to be dark. I am glad to say that the lighter, uplifting and meaningful film I got, rather than the expected sinister one (suggested by menacingly toned pre-release posters and trailers) was in the end; welcome. This perhaps made for a more enjoyable ride than a more formulaic, dark figured men in raincoats (been done before) chase movie. Not to say The Adjustment Bureau sometimes didn’t follow a well-trodden formula and isn’t without flaws; It was executed well and just balances slightly better as a charming meaningful love story; smartly tied together by the things that matter to us all.

7.5/10 Recommended

8 responses to “Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

  1. Really good review! I actually was very pleasantly surprised by this movie as well. I was expecting it to be dark and dramatic – more sci-fi than romance. But it turned out to be more romance than sci-fi – a welcome change. I did enjoy the marriage of both. And Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have FANTASTIC chemistry.

  2. Matt Damon was always a great actor. But his recent choice in movies, is truly making me raise an eyebrow… in a good way.

    THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU came from nowhere for me. Also, living in a part of the world where I’m a little isolated from regular TV Trailers + hype… caused me to be very surprised at this little movie.

    It’s a nice cross genre film that I wouldn’t mind seeing used more. So often we have genre flicks that toe the line… but this was nice and refreshing a sci fi film I could recommend to the Wifey.

  3. Pingback: The Adjustment Bureau: Don’t Believe The Hype « The Sound of Silence·

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