The Adjustment Bureau_1

The Reel Deal


A Reel Deal Film Review

Film Insight by Tyler Malone

March 2011

Reel Rating: 3 out of 5


The Adjustment Bureau could have been a great movie if it had been given a few minor adjustments. If the film had had a team of agents whose sole purpose was to set it on the right course, as Matt Damon’s character David Norris has within the movie, then perhaps it could have been phenomenal. It’s not that far off–and yet, that cliché “so close, but yet so far” has rarely seemed so a propos. Unfortunately, no one was there to fix the film’s flaws or to gently nudge it back on course as it starts to careen off the tracks.

The Adjustment Bureau is loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Phildickian adaptations in Hollywood have run the gamut from iconic (Blade Runner) to forgettable (Paycheck), from faithfully-adapted (A Scanner Darkly) to completely altered (Minority Report), from pretty damn awesome (Total Recall) to god-awful (Next). Where does The Adjustment Bureau sit within those poles? Well, it is undeniably more forgettable than iconic, much more altered than adapted, and yet it is still nowhere near god-awful. In fact, there’s as much–if not more–to like than to be disappointed with. It is a good film, just not a great one.

It tells the story of David Norris, a politician running for a New York Senate seat. He is on the path he is supposed to be on. Maybe he could even be President someday? A mistake on the part of one of the members of the Adjustment Bureau, a second run-in with a captivating ballerina (played by Emily Blunt), as well as some other underlying circumstances that I won’t get into, set Norris on an alternate path. This is not what the Chairman wants for him.

Even in that kernel form, the film synopsis is already miles away from the Philip K. Dick short story upon which it is based. The movement away from the source material isn’t necessarily what does the film in though. In fact, I almost prefer the story set up within the movie to the actual plot of the short story. Not to mention, I definitely prefer the film’s title to the title of Dick’s original story: Can’t we all agree The Adjustment Bureau sounds much cooler and more ominous than The Adjustment Team?

Okay, so if I like the many of the changes to the story, then what adjustments do I think The Adjustment Bureau needed?

1) I don’t know whether to blame the acting or the script–I’m guessing the latter since Damon and Blunt are both exceptional actors–but there is little chemistry between our romantic leads. It’s hard to root for a couple who want to give up everything to be together when we’re not exactly sure why they want to be together in the first place? Just having the characters say that when they’re around one another they feel better than they’ve ever felt, doesn’t mean we believe it. Or care.

2) There was no need to constantly make over-the-top religious allusions and associations. We get it! The men of the Adjustment Bureau are kind of like guardian angels and the Chairman is kind of like God. It’s better if you don’t keep beating us over the head with it since it’s pretty damn clear from the get-go.

3) Some of the acting–here’s looking at you Anthony Mackie–is sub-par.

4) Water? Really? What is this? Signs? If ever your film has me comparing it to an M. Night Shyamalan movie, that doesn’t bode well.

5) The ending is pretty damn cheesy and not Phildickian in the slightest. I won’t go into specifics, but I’m pretty sure you can infer what happens if you’ve seen the preview and/or know how big budget Hollywood movies generally end.

Lastly, overall, if the film had been a little more raw, and a bit less polished, it could have–and probably would have–worked. Hollywood’s lack of originality and Philip Dick’s wild uniqueness could be a match made in some weird opposites-attract heaven. But the only way it’d work is if Hollywood could concede a bit and take a few steps away from the cookie-cutter film structure that they give to every big budget movie. If they’d unbutton their shirts a bit, we’d get less Minority Reports and The Adjustment Bureaus (neither of which are bad, but both of which could have been great with some adjustments); we’d also get less Paychecks and Nexts (which are both pretty bad); and we’d get more Blade Runners and A Scanner Darklys (two absolutely amazing films by pretty much any standard).

If only The Adjustment Bureau had an Adjustment Bureau…

The Adjustment Bureau is a film written and directed by George Nolfi, based on a story by Philip K. Dick. It stars Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Anthony Mackie. The affair between a politician and a ballerina is affected by mysterious forces keeping the lovers apart.


Official Site: The Adjustment Bureau

IMDb: The Adjustment Bureau

Written by Tyler Malone

Photography Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Design by Marie Havens

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