The Adjustment Bureau came out in March, after the Oscars – a traditional dumping ground for bad films, which may account for its lackluster performance at the box office. One problem was most likely the trailer, which made this appear to be an action film, with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt on the run a la the Bourne movies. Although there is some strenuous running from time to time, The Adjustment Bureau is not an action film nor is it at all sinister – in fact, it’s funny, quirky, philosophical, and romantic, which must have disappointed those expecting to see Jason Bourne. Matt Damon, a New York congressman, accidentally discovers the existence of the “adjusters” and must promise to keep the secret, even though his predestined political destiny will keep him apart from the woman he loves. John Slattery and Terence Stamp appear to be enjoying themselves as only slightly sinister adjusters wearing magic hats that provide them with limited powers.
The Adjustment Bureau is grounded in reality through the appearance of politicians and reporters like Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mary Matalin and James Carville, John Stewart, Madeleine Albright, and Jesse Jackson. Ironically, Damon’s character loses his Senate race because he mooned his college classmates at a reunion – pretty tame stuff compared to what’s driving politicians out of office only a few months later.
Matt Damon is great in this role – he has the boyish charm and earnestness that make him so believable in so many roles and works well for a sincere politician whose foolish mistakes get him into trouble. Emily Blunt is an actress who can appear very modern (The Devil Wears Prada) and perfectly suited to period films (The Young Victoria), not an easy feat (see Winona Ryder for an example of failure). Their chemistry feels very real.
Philip K. Dick, whose novels and short stories have been the basis for movies from Blade Runner and Total Recall to Minority Report, wrote a short story in 1954, “Adjustment Team” on which this film is based. The story in general is very different, focused on an ordinary guy, married and working in a real estate office. He too accidentally witnesses something that no one is supposed to see. Instead of trying to preserve his personal future, the adjusters in this case are hoping to bring together foreign scientists who will forge peaceful relationships and prevent the Cold War from escalating. No such great stakes are made clear in The Adjustment Bureau, however, although we assume that Matt Damon’s character is meant to do good things as he gains power. The adjusters don’t seem concerned with good or evil, but just in sticking to the plan. Perhaps the marketing department at Universal Pictures should have deviated from their plan a bit.
The Adjustment Bureau is available for rent at Hollywood Express on Mass Ave. in Cambridge and on Netflix.