What controls life? Fate or Free Will? This is the primary question asked by The Adjustment Bureau. Pretty heady topic for what is an entertaining piece of movie making. Based on the short story, "The Adjustment Team" by Philip K Dick, and written for the screen by writer/director George Nolfi (he wrote both The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean's 12). The film also marks the third collaboration between Nolfi and star Matt Damon. Though I was interested in the topic of the movie based on the trailers, I didn't realize how fun, and funny, The Adjustment Bureau was actually going to be. Not a laugh-out-loud type of humor, but entertaining and light, mixed in with some moments of quasi-religious-philosophical speeches of who or what is really controlling life as we know it.
Damon plays an up-and-coming political wunderkind. Who seems poised to become the youngest senator ever, but loses due to some past missteps that cause many voters to think him too immature to be taken seriously. In steps Emily Blunt. A free spirited ballerina who has a penchant for bringing out the "authentic" side of Damon's test-group approved, mass-marketed politician. Even his ties have been "tested with focus groups." With her encouragement, he goes "off script" and delivers a very sincere concession speech. Waiting in the wings, fedora wearing men are not happy with what has transpired. The leader of these men, Donaldson, is called in to help clean up the mess created when Damon and Blunt reunite on a seemingly random bus ride.
Later, Damon walks in on an "adjustment" in progress on his best friend and campaign manager, Charlie. The fedora wearing men begin the first of two rather visually interesting, if not a wee bit too long chases through the street of New York. It is clear these men are not your average hat wearing businessmen. With a display of "powers," Donaldson convinces Damon of their supernatural essence. He gives him his first insight into the "fate" or "free will" debate. Ultimately, one of the hat wielding men, takes pity on Damon and shares with him some of the weaknesses of his kind. Damon is warned that he and Blunt must not end up together as it is not part of his pre-ordained plan. To show they are serious, a man nicknamed "The Hammer," Thomson (Terrance Stamp), is called in to prove to Damon how far they are willing to go to keep him on target with the "plan." More speeches about fate and free will follow. Then there's another more visually interesting, yet longer chase scene. I sometimes wonder if the writer has run short of story when a chase scene feels too long. In this case the writer and director being the same person, he must have consulted with himself. The visual cues are interesting, and at times reminded me of Dorothy opening the door of her farm house after landing in Oz: you don't know what will lay behind the next door the characters open.
The pair of Damon and Blunt are likeable enough, though I didn't feel a lot of chemistry between them. But both actors are appealing as individuals. There is some emotional resonance between Damon and Harry (Anthony Mackie), the mystery man that comes to Damon's aid. There are many cameos of famous people playing themselves (my favorite being Jon Stewart, who interviews candidate Damon on The Daily Show).
If you are looking for a light, entertaining movie with some moments of philosophy thrown in for good measure, The Adjustment Bureau would fit the bill. It's your choice ... or is it?
Rating: TWO AND A HALF BONES
Release Date: March 4th, 2011
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Shohreh Aghdashloo, John Slattery, and Michael Kelly
Director: George Nolfi
Writer: George Nolfi