We can recalibrate it for you – The Adjustment Bureau review

The Adjustment Bureau – Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Anthony Mackie. Directed by George Nolfi. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

I can honestly say The Adjustment Bureau is the best meet-cute sci-fi rom-com about magic hats that I’ve seen in at least three months. Well, definitely top five. The ads are selling it as ‘Inception meets Bourne’, but that’s only accurate in the sense that it features scenes in which Matt Damon runs really quickly, and a few moments in which character’s relay exposition to one another. No, The Adjustment Bureau is much more like Alex Proyas’ reality-shattering double feature Dark City and Knowing. Of course, I’m one of the few people out there who adores Proyas’ forays into science fiction, so when I say that The Adjustment Bureau is good, just not ‘Knowing good’, understand that it is meant to be a genuine compliment and not a backhanded one.

The universe of George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau – loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick – is a rich one, and the former Bourne-screenwriter makes an impressive directorial debut. The film suggests we live in a universe orchestrated by a higher power, specifically, The Chairman (although, we’re reminded that we have called him/her by many names – geddit?). A bunch of sharply dressed “case workers” – equipped with snappy hats that turn doors into logic-defying portals – patrol the streets, ensuring everyone carries on with their lives as defined by “the plan”, which is handily mapped out in Moleskine notebooks. Someone whose plan is being very carefully monitored is young politician David Norris (Damon). Having endured the untimely death of his parents and overdose of his brother, he is set to change the face of U.S. politics. However, a chance encounter with modern dancer Elise (Emily Blunt) leads David astray, and the Bureau is forced to intervene and “reason” with him. It may be love at first sight, but David and Elise are not meant to be. The entire future of the universe relies on his sticking to The Chariman’s plan. But you try reasoning with a man enchanted by Emily Blunt.

Somewhere along the way, ‘sci-fi’ got all tangled up with ‘action’, and suddenly films like Transformers were being incorrectly designated. Science fiction is about ideas, and forcing viewers to look at the universe – either through parables, satire or straight drama – and ponder the infinite possibilities. Even Inception – ironically, a film about ideas – doesn’t really have anything too interesting to say about our universe, but it is a damn good action film. The Adjustment Bureau meanwhile is a wonderfully skewed interpretation of the world and the potential conspiracies being carried out in rooms and buildings when we’re not in them. It challenges the comforting axiom of so many religions – that everything happens for a reason – with the cold realisation that this also means someone/something is coordinating the tragedies of our life; that free will is merely an illusion; that the choices we make – even if they feel so right – could somehow be wrong; that we should trust a nameless, faceless being with deciding what’s best for us, even when it is a complete contradiction to how we feel.

There’s no better way to represent unquestioning minions than with suited-up company men like the film’s “case workers”, tirelessly sticking to the plan and nudging people to make certain decisions even if they have no idea why it’s necessary. We get to know three adjusters who dutifully carry on like so many church-goers: Anthony Mackie – tiredly, with pangs of doubt; John Slattery – frustrated, but bound by obligation; Terence Stamp – threateningly, and unwilling to question the orders from above. The film is wise to not position itself against religious believers, or even against religion itself. Instead, it gives us in the form of a romantic fable an opportunity to question why we are so quick to believe in a mystical higher power – until the knowledge of one becomes a harsh reality – and the value of a life that surrenders accountability completely.

It’s important to note that this is not your traditional “man-is-forced-to-recalibrate-his-understanding-of-reality” apocalypse drama. It is – above all – a love story. And quite a funny one. Damon and Blunt have such wonderful chemistry; it seems completely believable that they would share a passionate kiss upon first meeting, and would want to spend their lives with one another after reuniting three years later. They spend their time together making jokes, flirting with teenage abandon, sharing those genuine moments where hearts skip beats. I had completely forgotten that not all movie romances need to begin with the duo berating one another, tiring each other out and eventually sleeping together. Katherine Heigl has ruined love stories for me.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Adjustment Bureau is now showing across Australia.

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