Movie Review – Adjustment Bureau, The

Solid, tense romantic/thriller plays somewhat like a cross between a 40’s G-Man pulp genre piece, and a modern day romantic drama, all mixed with some sort of nebulous “higher power” mythology. Damon is terrific, and Emily Blunt more than ably backs him up with a nuanced performance as the object of his love. While the ending is a little weak, the majority of the film is energetic and unpredictable, with the quandary question posed: if you had to chose between an eternal love, or both of you remaining unfulfilled in life, which would you choose?


– Summary –

Director : George Nolfi
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terrence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Anthony Ruviviar.
Approx Running Time : 106 Minutes
Synopsis: Up-and-coming politician David Norris meets a young woman in a mens toilet – and is instantly smitten. Trouble is, according to a mysterious group of men, neither David nor this woman are meant to be together, and they will stop at nothing the keep them apart.
What we think : Solid, tense romantic/thriller plays somewhat like a cross between a 40’s G-Man pulp genre piece, and a modern day romantic drama, all mixed with some sort of nebulous “higher power” mythology. Damon is terrific, and Emily Blunt more than ably backs him up with a nuanced performance as the object of his love. While the ending is a little weak, the majority of the film is energetic and unpredictable, with the quandary question posed: if you had to chose between an eternal love, or both of you remaining unfulfilled in life, which would you choose?


The question of predetermination, fate, and our choices, have been written about, sung about, and thought about, virtually since mankind crawled out of the primordial ooze and looked up. Is there a God, an omnipotent being watching over us, and if so, what is he or she doing up there? How do we know that we’re supposed to catch that bus, or not get on that plane, or turn left instead of right? Are these choices we make, or are they part of a bigger, grander plan about which we have no idea? The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t attempt to answer those questions – at least, not in any way other than superficially, but it’s a film that does ask a lot of the viewer in terms of questioning the philosophical aspects of our lives. And it’s all wrapped up in a romantic drama starring Matt Damon. Who knew, right?

The Bureau arrives…

David Norris (Matt Damon) is an up-and-coming political candidate for the state of New York, and looks set to win a seat in the senate before a front page scandal breaks, skewering his chances of election – indeed, on election night, his campaign is practically in the toilet. As if to highlight this metaphor, Norris winds up practicing his concession speech in the mens room of a hotel, whereupon he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a dancer from New York who happens to hear his mumbled practicing. The two have a spark, a chemistry, although he knows not her name or where she’s from. One day, riding a bus to work, he chances upon Elise again, and they engage once more in verbal flirtation – this time, however, she gives him her phone number. Once he’s off the bus, however, David is chased down by a group of mysterious men, men all wearing Fedora hats, who take him to a strange warehouse where they proceed to tell him that his choices, his meetings with Elise, will no longer occur. He is to never have any contact with Elise again, and they burn the card with her number on it. Apparently, these men, from a place known as The Adjustment Bureau, can read minds, control fate, and know what you’re going to do before you do it. David, of course, can’t stop thinking about Elise, and as you’d expect, rebels against the explicit instructions he’s been given not to seek her out. Three years later, he spots her walking down the street. The mysterious hat wearing men once more must pursue David and convince him to end his relationship with her.

Then at the second crossroad, you turn left, then right, and then a second left… It’s easy, really!

And that’s all in the first twenty minutes. The Adjustment Bureau isn’t a romantic comedy, or an out-and-out sci-fi opus, but rather, a gently stirred mix of both. On the one hand, the romance between Damon’s Norris, and Emily Blunts Elise is well handled, believable, and meaningful. They have a great chemistry together, and you can feel that raw energy whenever they’re on screen. On the other hand, the mysterious hat wearing guys over at the Adjustment Bureau run about with weird books which can tell the future or something, like an idea out of Star Trek. This combination might feel a little strange at first, but as the film progresses, it becomes more natural, less intrusive, and simply a part of the world we’re asked to accept. Director George Nolfi, who wrote the screenplay based on the Philip K Dick short story “The Adjustment Team” – yeah, I’m glad they changed it to “Bureau” as well – has done well with keeping the concepts fairly simple; he’s minimized the number of characters in the film, and restrained the concept of predicting events to a fairly low-key element within the movie. That’s not to say there aren’t some great moments in the film, it’s just that they’re not shot or presented in a way, say, Michael Bay might deliver them.

Kneel before…. oh f*ck it!

The cast are uniformly excellent, even in the smaller roles. Leading man Matt Damon is excellent as the confused, then lovestruck, then resolute Norris, who sacks up to the Bureau and fights for the woman he loves. Emily Blunt does equally well, especially in her roles requirement that she be an excellent dancer, and she brings a strength to Elise that is needed – given the distance and time both Elise and Norris take to find each other properly, she’s got a lot of waiting to do. Blunt more than carries her side of their relationship. John Slattery is fairly generic as the leading Bureau man assigned to Norris’s case, and latecomer to the film Terrence Stamp rocks it out as this films version of Il Duce – he’s the last man standing between Norris and a dire fate, and he will do almost anything to see that the Chairman’s orders are carried out. Anthony Mackie is smooth as the Bureau operative who assists Norris in his plan to rescue Elise, even though at one point, Norris leaves her sobbing in a hospital corridor after she sprains her ankle.

Dwayne wouldn’t understand the truth for quite a while yet….

The setting for the film is New York City, and John Toll’s breathtaking cinematography really shines – literally and figuratively. This film looks amazing, the colors and vibrancy of the image a truly postcard-styled love-letter to the Big Apple. I think it’s somewhat serendipitous that the story occurs in the labyrinthine streets of Manhattan, considering the almost equally sinuous pathways our lives actually take, and perhaps this was a key element to choosing to film in NYC. I think The Adjustment Bureau has some world class cinematography, so I’d like to call out John Toll for a special mention here. Great work, fella! Thomas Newmans score is also excellent, nuanced and layered, with an evocative central theme in which Norris and Elise fall in love. I expected nothing else.

I can’t believe you HIT me! You bitch!

The story flows at what seems like a brisk pace, but is actually fairly pedestrian, almost as if Nolfi is letting the script breathe a little between chase sequences. There’s great character development between Norris and Elise throughout, and the subtle hints at a larger story with the Bureau keeps churning along in the background, offering tidbits of vital clues as to what’s going on. The great thing about Nolfi’s direction is that he never overplays his hand, showing the inner workings of the Bureau in glorious pornographic detail, and this serves to heighten the mystery. He’s prepared to leave a little mystery in place, and it’s to his credit that he does this. It makes the viewer question what’s going on – even as things start to become clear, new twists and turns begin. If it’s any indication of just how well crafted this film is, my wife, the gorgeous Lisa T, who normally finds slowly paced films “boring” – her words, not mine – found this to be an absorbing, exciting and entertaining film to watch. I guess if you’re looking for a positive endorsement for The Adjustment Bureau, that would be it.


What Others Are Saying About The Adjustment Bureau:

Will over at Silver Emulsion said this: “It’s missing a lot of the tension it seems to think it has, not to mention it’s rather boring and illogical, but it is entirely watchable.”

Sam over at Anomalous Material thinks this: “For all the misfires and its sometimes less-than audacious script, The Adjustment Bureau does a good job of infusing an intricate and engrossing storyline with remarkably good performances.”

Dan over at Dan The Man’s Movie Reviews had this to say: “The premise here is actually a very smart one, but it isn’t used to it’s advantage honestly.”

And finally, Rory from Above The Line dissected this film thusly: “There are exactly three minutes of movie that you’ll end up taking with you after the credits roll.”

Who wrote this?

10 thoughts on “Movie Review – Adjustment Bureau, The

  1. The acting is good and there are some very inspired moments, but overall, the romantic angle to the film started taking over this film that had so much more potential to do something awesome, and instead just did something OK with a cool idea. Nice review Rodney.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Dan! The general consensus is that the film has a fair amount of missed opportunity, although it seems nobody can really agree on exactly what that opporunity was. Some enjoyed the romance, some enjoyed the mystery of the Bureau, while others (like Vik) didn't enjoy anything about it. No doubt in a few years, somebody might try and remake this film (because Hollywood's currently creatively bankrupt) and make it better… perhaps.

  2. I was disappointed by this movie as I generally like romantic sci-fis. It never really felt like the sweeping love story that it should have been and the folks from the Adjustment Bureau never feel scary enough for us to feel overly apprehensive for the love birds.

    1. Thanks guys! I think a lot of the problems with the film stem primarily with the central conceit of Matt Damon's character and Emily Blunt's character not being "meant for each other", and how they buck the stystem established by the Bureau. Essentially, the film's about Matt Damon not getting laid, and the lengths he'd go to to rectify that. Which isn't a great hook for the audience, I guess.

  3. Thanks for the link! For me it's a rather standard film, nothing special, that I had a lot of problems with. It is nice to look at and everyone does a good job, but it's just lacking any tension for me. Enjoyed your review and I think most people share your feelings, despite some negative blogger press.

  4. Really didn't like this one. It opened good, and Blunt and Damon did have a great chemistry (although I felt it gradually disappear as the film became more plot driven). I also felt it took itself way too seriously (was I the only one that found the fedorah hat thing kind of retarded?), the story was, in my opinion — while somewhat original — rather ridiculous.

    I got the sense that there wasn't any backstory to speak of concerning the bureau and "the writer" etc., it came off as just wanting to be enigmatic, but not having much to back it up. And I'm an atheist, personally, nor do I believe in determinism (I think everything is random), so the philosophical aspect didn't do much for me either. With the ending I was almost insulted with how convenient and overly obvious that was, to be frank. I think, if Damon and Blunt's characters were put in a different film that revolved around them, it could have been really good. Still, great review! It seems I'm in the minority with disliking this one.

    1. @ Vik – I can understand your viewpoint regarding the film being somewhat enigmatic with the bureau's backstory, although I think it lended an air of mystery to the proceedings instead of being a known quantity, as it were. The philosophy of predestination and determinism is a key factor with this film, apparent from the Bureau's mandate as established by the films narrative, which means that any film trying to extrapolate a story from the concept will always fail in your eyes – not a criticizm, just a fact, I think. If you don't appreciate the idea of the film, then the film will never appeal to you due to its inherent flaw. Still, you raised some excellent points, and they are well worth considering.

      @ Dan – … and by dancing, I don't mean "pole dancing", I mean "interpretive" dancing! 😉 I know what you were thinking… LOL!! Yeah, I don't understand the negativity towards this film – perhaps it was an expectation of something different which was never met, say, people expecting another Bourne film (which is how the film was marketed over here in Australia) or something.

  5. There seems to be quite a lot of negativity towards this film. Even in your largely positive review there is still the sense that the film lacks something. I've read many reviews that describe the film as average and the additional quotes at the end of the review seem to support this. I do however want to see the film – especially for Emily Blunt's "excellent" performance. You say she does some dancing – right, I'm in! 😉

  6. i think i gotta go with Dan on this one. The idea was brilliant but underexecuted (hey, if i can think of it word, it exists). Unlike your review, btw, which was heaps brilliant on all fronts.

    1. Cheers, Al! It was quite funny reading all the negative reviews I linked to, while my own was pretty positive – I started to second guess myself, before realizing that in the end, we all take different things from the films we see.

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