Now Showing On Cable: “The Adjustment Bureau”

Premiering this weekend on HBO was this January’s “The Adjustment Bureau”, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

Based on a short story by famed science fiction author Phillip K Dick, “The Adjustment Bureau” is the tale of a young congressman, played by Matt Damon, who gets crushed in his run for the Senate. The night of his defeat, however, he runs into a free-spirited young woman and falls in love at first sight.

Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t in “the plans”.

Soon after his election night defeat, Damon’s character is heading into his office in the morning. On the bus ride in, he once again runs into the woman he met the night he lost the election. Unfortunately for him, he “wasn’t supposed to.” His path was supposed to be “adjusted”. He arrives to his offices earlier than expected (he was supposed to be delayed) and walks in on a team of suited individuals… conducting some sort of procedure on the people he works with.

He’s walked in on “The Adjustment Bureau” in operation.

The Adjustment Bureau, he is soon told, is responsible for course correcting people in order to guide events on the grander scale. Carrying notebooks which map out trouble spots based on probability permutations, able to open doors like a real world game of portal, and gifted with the ability to create minor events (such as telekinetically spilling a cup of coffee on someone), the Adjustment Bureau tries to ensure events unfold according to “the plan”. Due to some fictitious bureaucratic regulation, the Adjustment Bureau can’t just wipe Damon’s memory clean, so instead, they come clean with him, explaining their “business” to an extent, and explaining to him that if he ever reveals their existence to others, they’ll be forced to mind wipe him.

Since his second chance encounter with his dream girl wasn’t supposed to have happened, the Adjustment Bureau tries their best to part the two of them. Damon, who is aware of their existence now, refuses to be dissuaded and pushes through every minor obstacle thrown in his path. He doggedly pursues her, and when the two are together, it seems that they are genuinely in love… That they were meant to be together. What unfolds is a case of star-crossed lovers battling the odds. Except in this case the odds ARE truly stacked against them.

And that’s the movie’s main asset – the romance between Damon and Blunt. They both play off of each other very well, and have some fun, flirtatious chemistry. Especially early on.

Unfortunately, the movie is awash in exposition, and most of it revolves around explaining a fictional bureaucracy which controls the course of human events in a deterministic fashion. There’s near endless references to “the plan” and “quotas”. They spend a lot of time setting up the rules. Essentially the movie is a fictional debate between determinism and free will, with a healthy dose of “the power of love”. Which is a wonderful discussion, only, when presented so overtly, it’s not very interesting. Especially when it’s wrapped in quasi-business jargon and presented dispassionately.

In the end, I just can’t recommend it very highly. It holds some value, it was mildly entertaining, but really not all that much.

C+

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16 thoughts on “Now Showing On Cable: “The Adjustment Bureau”

  1. Think mildly entertaining is the only way to describe this film. The workers of the Adjustment Bureau reminded me of the Observers in Fringe, only slightly more stylish and Mad Men-esque.

    Had this been a romance film set in this world, with less exposition and need to overly explain everything, it could have been a good film.

    • Yeah… What she said.

      LOL. Exactly. They weren’t as mysterious as the guys in “Fringe” either. I was shocked how early this movie laid it all out there for people. Like within the first 15 minutes, you know everything about them.

      • Yep, and there’s no mystery left to drive you to the end of the film. You’re left with a lack lustre romance that really didn’t sell it for me.

  2. I felt the same way. A clever idea isn’t that clever if it takes half a movie to explain, and even then still doesn’t make sense. This is a definite “one time watcher.” Although I have to say that I enjoyed the first half but that was mainly because of Damon’s acting skills and Emily Blunt’s easiness on the eyes.

    • Yeah, I actually thought they were pretty good together too. They flirted very believably. Had some chemistry.

      But then later, when “FATE” got in their way, it got very silly-mumbo-jumbo very quickly.

      • I know what you mean. Phillip K Dick has SO many awesome stories that have hit the screen. I should totally buy like, his collected works or something. However, like you said, I probably wont. I know myself.

        Have read Blade Runner though well, Do Androids Dream…. but that was a long time ago. When it first came out.

  3. I was disappointed by this movie myself. I think the movie as a whole just lack the two most important elements of this story: Stakes which never feel very high because the dudes in the hats are actually good guys and a strong central romance, which never really feels that way because it’s not build up nearly sufficiently enough. C+ sounds about right ;)

  4. I liked it a bit better than you did, but I’ll admit it does have its flaws and needed some more “oomph” to it. A tightening of the script, some rearrangement to spread out the revelations, might have helped it quite a bit.

    For what it’s worth, although I haven’t read “Adjustment Team”, it’s my understanding that the short story doesn’t have a lot in common with the film. They just took the high concept of the team of life-adjusters and told their own story with it. Of course, that’s the case for nearly all film adaptations of Philip K. Dick.

  5. You only confirmed why I am not interested in films like these. What has happen do Damon? I think the ‘Bourne Identity’ and ‘Good Will Hunting’ were his only successful films. I stay away from films like these. Sorry you had to waste your time watching this one. At least it served it purpose as fodder for your awesome review.

  6. I think without Damon and Blunt this really has little to offer. It looks great, John Slattery is John Slattery, and the conceit is treated well for most of the film, so there’s that. But there’s an absence of tension in that final chase when there should be heaps of it; there’s never a moment where it genuinely seems as though the lovers are in any sort of danger whatsoever. Sure, as movie-goers we probably know how things will turn out but that shouldn’t excuse failure to establish stakes and heighten anxiety.

    Certainly a solid film but, like In Time, it falls short of really living up to the excitement of its premise.

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