movie review: The Adjustment Bureau

I’m a sucker for movies about fate, destiny, and heavenly intervention—going all the way back to On Borrowed Time and Here Comes Mr. Jordan up through Ghost Town with Ricky Gervais—so I was more than willing to accept the premise of The Adjustment Bureau, based on Philip K. Dick’s short story. In this case, the buttoned-down business types played by Anthony Mackie and John Slattery are here on earth to make sure things go “according to plan.” So when hotshot politician Matt Damon chances to meet Emily Blunt and falls in love at first sight, they’re forced to—

—step in. This wasn’t supposed to happen, and they have to set things straight.

That such an outlandish idea works against a realistic backdrop—the world of politics and business in New York City, peopled by an impressive number of real-life personalities and pundits—is a credit to director George Nolfi (who also wrote the screenplay) and his stars. Damon and Blunt are both likable and believable; they give us rooting interest, and that’s essential in a highly fanciful story.

Nolfi and his colleagues make especially good use of New York, filming everywhere from the Brooklyn waterfront to the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art. It’s a fresh look at a familiar city.

But Nolfi drops the ball in the home stretch, and that’s a shame. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I stopped believing the story, but by the climax—and certainly by the underwhelming finale—I was no longer engaged. Damon and Blunt play it for all it’s worth, and Mackie, who has a commanding presence, does his best to keep a straight face during the elaborate and increasingly outlandish buildup to the final scene, but it’s all for naught.

I would still recommend the film to incurable romantics, or fans of the leading actors. The Adjustment Bureau is a stylish, well-crafted film; I just wish it had the dramatic impact it aspires to convey.


  1. Grumpy P says:

    I don't think Xander has missed the point at all, Chris Claassen. In fact, that is the exact moment where the movie lost me forever as well. We did manage to hang on to the end to see if it came out of its death spiral (it didn't) but at no point did the movie "reject such attitudes". It didn't deliver the message that maybe it wasn't so bad after all if Elise taught dancing to six-year-olds; rather, when it became obvious that she and David were going to remain together, *they rewrote the plan*. Meaning, obviously, that they were going to be allowed to become famous despite their interference with "the plan". Not a redeeming message at all, actually. "You'll do something really lucrative but unnecessary with your life if you obey ALL the rules. If you break those rules….well, ok, we'll let you get famous and rich anyhow."

    This movie was the biggest dog I have seen in years.

  2. Pete says:

    For a movie about fate, destiny and all that kind of stuff, it’s no wonder that the reviewer found the build-up to the end no longer engaging! I guess they’ve wound too much into it already. That’s why simpicity is the lost art of definition.

  3. Chris Claassen says:

    Xander, you miss the point. It riles you that the chairman looks down at a ballet teacher of six year olds, and that favours celebrities instead.. Well, the movie speaks out against such an attitude. Never heard of satire, or irony? The messsage of the movie distances itself from the chairman’s view. So, if anything, you should be pleased that the movie rejects such attitudes.

  4. Xander says:

    Among the things I loathed about this movie, and the ending was definitely one of them, I loathed this: The angel/godlike character says, “If you marry her, you’ll ruin her future too, for without you in her life, she is going to be a world famous choreographer. With you … she’ll teach dancing … to SIX YEAR OLDS!” oooooh! So, ‘god’, or the ‘chairman’ or whoever, has decided that famous people are better than not famous people? That famous people are happier, make more of an impact on the world, are more worth protecting? I hated this part of the move, and it made it impossible to believe in it’s reality. Along with the hats. And a hundred other things. And John Slattery disappeared and that wasn’t very good either, just because he’s good. Still, maybe he left early because he knew he was in a crud fest.

  5. DENNIS LYNCH says:

    I agree with your review. Good production values and performances, all for nothing.
    The film has the same flaw that THE FINAL COUNTDOWN had.
    It sets up an intriguing premise, dances around it for 90 minutes, then cops out, avoiding answers and the implications of the setup.
    The audience is left hanging with no resolution of the main questions.
    It’s like the filmmakers are afraid to propose a solution because they don’t want to offend any members of the audience.

  6. Brett says:

    Doesn’t sound like a negative review.

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