A great story is a terrible thing to waste.
The Adjustment Bureau, the new thriller starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, offers an intriguing concept that is poorly realized. The stars manage to rise above their material, but as a whole, the film still fails to deliver.
Very loosely based on a 1954 Philip K. Dick short story entitled Adjustment Team, The Adjustment Bureau stars Damon as David Norris, a Congressional candidate from Brooklyn who meets Elise (Blunt), a ballerina, on election night. The two share an electrifying kiss, meet again by chance on a city bus and sparks fly.
But it turns out Norris was not supposed to be on that bus and was not supposed to see Elise again. His fate is thrown off-course by a mistake, and he sees something no one is supposed to see — the mysterious fedora-clad men of the Adjustment Bureau, who must keep people on their fated tracks.
The men of the Adjustment Bureau order Norris to keep their existence a secret, threatening to erase his memory and adding that he cannot see Elise again.
They reveal that being with Elise would mean ruining both his political career and her chance to be a world-class ballerina.
But as Norris becomes more and more convinced that he only wants to be with Elise, he will do whatever it takes to escape the men who insist she is not part of his destined path.
It’s a promising setup with the potential for suspense and the exhilaration of intriguing science fiction, but director and screenwriter George Nolfi, in his directorial debut, fails to capitalize on any of this.
The film, which superficially addresses questions of fate and free will, is clumsily handled and inconsistent in tone.
The film’s lack of a clear or effective mood turns the Bureau itself into something of a joke. For an organization that ominously and mysteriously controls all lives, it fails to actually be ominous or mysterious, making countless silly mistakes that just aren’t believable.
Moments when Bureau members ought to appear menacing are more comical, and it is entirely unclear whether the humor is intentional.
Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), the empathetic adjuster who reaches out to Norris, is likable enough, but neither he nor Mad Men’s John Slattery, Mackie’s superior on Norris’ case, seem invested in the characters they portray.
The film could have benefited from a darker tone and more potent energy (think Minority Report, another Dick adaptation dealing with similar themes), but Nolfi keeps everything lighthearted, never delving beneath the surface.
In addition, the weirdly religious overtones (the Adjustment Bureau might or might not be made up of angels, and their unseen “chairman” seems to be God) only detract from the potential for purely sci-fi intrigue.
The film makes an odd, undeveloped attempt at being topical with frequent clips from news networks discussing the congressional race and a clip of Norris appearing on The Daily Show.
It briefly captures the incessant chatter of the 24-hour news cycle, but never goes anywhere profound with it.
America’s current mess of a political system provides something of a backdrop for The Adjustment Bureau, but without intelligently integrating it into the story, Nolfi fails to make any cogent point on the matter.
Still, Damon and Blunt have the talent to make The Adjustment Bureau an occasionally enjoyable experience despite its overwhelming flaws.
They both exude their own magnetic charisma, and the pair’s electric chemistry is the only thing that keeps the audience invested.
Blunt is stunning, managing to imbue Elise with a depth that is completely lacking in the script itself.
It seems Damon, by no means at his best in this role, can’t fail to charm an audience, and as the hopeful congressman, he exhibits an uncorrupted moral compass that makes the audience wish it could actually vote for him.
The attractive pair is convincing enough to make us believe their love can overcome all obstacles, but the biggest obstacles in the film are the lackluster screenplay and clumsy direction.
The only surprise in Nolfi’s tryingly predictable film is that Damon and Blunt can craft a believable and even exhilarating romance in a picture that offers nothing else to be exhilarated by.