The Adjustment Bureau
starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Terrence Stamp
directed & written by George Nolfi
based on a story by Philip K. Dick
Universal Pictures (2010)
Is there such a thing as fate? Such a thing would imply there is someone pulling the strings. Well heck, what if your heart's desire was diametrically opposed to that someone's grand plan? What would you do?
The Adjustment Bureau asks these questions in a loose adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. Now, the batting average for Dick's film adaptations isn't terribly impressive--I'm still displeased with Paycheck, and I haven't even read the story it's based on. But thanks to solid performances from Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, this movie manages to create a compelling story with moments that border on great.
Damon plays a young New York congressman named Norris campaigning for U.S. Senate, and getting his butt kicked in the process. While preparing his concession speech in the bathroom of a hotel, he meets a gorgeous, charismatic, and mischievous woman hiding in a stall because hotel security found out she crashed a wedding upstairs. The two really hit it off, but part ways abruptly, and it seems Norris will never see her again--he didn't even get her name. But, as fate would have it, he does meet her again and finds out her name is Elise. Only it's against fate's wishes, thanks to an error on the part of the Adjustment Bureau.
As it turns out, Norris was only ever meant to meet Elise the one time to propel him on a predestined path, and this burgeoning relationship with her threatens to throw that whole plan out the window. That means the Adjustment Bureau has to set things right. They work behind the scenes, nudging people in one direction or another, like leading cattle through a chute. People still makes the choices, but the caseworkers for the Bureau can read minds and predict what choices will be made. It's emotion they have trouble reading, which is what drives Norris to track down Elise again and again while the Bureau throws up road blocks and pitfalls all along the way.
There are moments where the whole plot feels incredibly convoluted and predicated on a single preposterous turn of events. Thankfully, the performances make the taut situations feel real, and the early Keystone Kops antics of the caseworkers make for a few good laughs. That was a nice touch, because if this movie had taken itself too seriously, it would have been unbearable.
The special effects are spaced out so that the story relies more on the characters and the chases, but when moments like stepping through a door into a part of New York City miles away it looks seamless. Heck, I didn't realize until watching the DVD extras that the scene on Liberty Island was a green screen trick. And that's another thing about this movie: New York City is practically a character in the movie, featuring a slew of the city's iconic landmarks, even if for only brief moments.
I don't know how ardent Dick readers feel about this movie, but I liked it. I'd recommend it, but maybe it doesn't matter; maybe you're already predestined to watch it or not.