About 15 minutes into The Adjustment Bureau
, the new Matt Damon vehicle, I thought I was going to be watching The Manchurian Candidate
on steroids. If you’ve seen the trailer, you probably know what I mean. Matt Damon’s character, David Norris, opens a door and sees some mysterious men in suits, ties, and hats, overseeing some even more mysterious men in black hazmat suits doing something to the brain of his best friend/campaign manager. Okay, it looks like the whole mind control thing. But the film quickly morphs into something else – in fact, several something elses. George Nolfi directed the film and wrote the screenplay, based on the late sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team”. It’s a mesmerizing ride!
David Norris (Matt Damon) is a rising politician, a very charismatic Congressman running for a Senate seat, but losing the election because of his impulsive involvement in a barroom brawl/mooning incident. He’s composing his concession speech went he meets Elise (Emily Blunt) in a most unusual way. She’s a beautiful Brit, a bit “cheeky”, and he falls for her immediately. It turns out that she’s a dancer on the brink of stardom, and the two were never supposed to meet. After he discovers the existence of the “adjustment” guys, David is warned of terrible consequences if he tries to pursue a romance with Elise. Just what these men are is never actually revealed, but the existence of a Higher Power is strongly suggested. When David asks one of them, Harry (Anthony Mackie), if they are angels, Harry replies cryptically that they’ve been called many things by humans. So the viewer gets to decide: angels, extraterrestrials, or whatever your imagination suggests. David learns that peoples’ paths in life are orchestrated by these beings who function under the direction of The Chairman. However, chance also exists, so paths can go awry. David uses the free will argument and plans to resist losing Elise. Apparently, the “bureau” is actually a bureaucracy, and when Harry’s boss Richardson (John Slattery) can’t handle David, an even higher-up player, Thompson (Terence Stamp), is brought in. Thompson is a legendary enforcer and almost succeeds in making David follow his pre-determined path. Now the film morphs into a pursuit/capture story as David and Elise, with the aid of a sympathetic Harry, try to escape and live their lives as they wish.
Matt Damon, as always, delivers a fine performance and allows the audience to believe the unbelievable. Equally, good is Emily Blunt, who has definite chemistry with Damon. Although she had a dance double, she performed most of the dance sequences herself. In an on-line interview, Blunt said that the training was brutal! Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) is convincing as a world-weary “adjuster” on the brink of burn-out. John Slattery conveys the proper frustration of middle management when the “big gun” is called in, and the wonderful Terence Stamp is delightfully sinister as that “big gun.”
So, the audience gets many films in one. There’s the sci-fi angle, a little bit of the metaphysical, a lot of romance, and a lightening-paced chase/adventure. It’s being billed as a romance/thriller, but it’s really more than that. The sci-fi element shouldn’t be downplayed because it allows some exciting special effects. Is it too much? Maybe. There’s an enormous build-up which, I think, made the outcome a bit anticlimactic. The ending was a crowd-pleaser, but I couldn’t help thinking, maybe a bit perversely, that an edgier resolution might have made a stronger film.