The Way of the Word

4. February 2011

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

USA 2011. Written & directed by George Nolfi. Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp. Runtime: ca. 90 minutes. Loosely based on the short story The Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick.

Just as David Norris (Matt Damon) has lost his run for the US Senate, he meets the mysterious Elise (Emily Blunt). It’s love at first sight, but she has to run and he has no idea who she is. But her inspiration keeps David in politics. A few months later, he meets her again, randomly, on the bus, and this time he gets her phone number. The problem is that David was supposed to miss that bus, he had only caught it because Harry (Anthony Mackie), the Adjustment Agent assigned to his case, made a mistake. Because of that, David arrives sooner at his office than expected, and catches the Adjustment Bureau in the act of, well, making adjustments. They snatch him and take him to a secret, undisclosed location where they tell him everything: they are agents of Fate, they are supposed to make sure that everything goes according to the Chairman’s plan, if he ever tells anyone about this he will be lobotomized, oh, and by the way, he is not supposed to see Elise again, ever. Three years later, he does. And despite everything the Adjustment Bureau does, David manages to stay close to the woman he loves. But it violates The Plan, so the Adjustment Bureau sends Agent Thompson (Terence Stamp), who always gets results. Thompson reveals to David that both he and Elise have wonderful futures ahead of them. But only if they stay apart. David would be willing to sacrifice his own future for love — but can he sacrifice Elise’s? Or can the Plan be changed?

Every now and then, there comes a movie that is difficult to define. The Adjustment Bureau is such a movie. At the heart of it, it’s a romance. With fanastical/fantasy elements. And thrilling. Plus, it offers food for thought. The central questions at the heart of The Adjustment Bureau are the eternal problems of free will vs. fate (Terence Stamp’s character has an almost chilling speech about that), and how far can you/should you go for love.

The movie examines these questions in a dramatic and exciting way, of course; it is a movie after all.

The Adjustment Bureau is perfectly cast. As the movie progresses, Matt Damon seems to grow into his character, just as David Norris’s character grows during the four years the movie spans. And since a romance stands and falls with the chemistry between the male and female lead, let it be said that the chemistry between Damon and Emily Blunt is incredible. You do not doubt for a single moment that these two people really do fall head over heels for one another the moment they meet, or that David would really obsess over Elise for years.

The story’s real hero, however, would be Anthony Mackie’s Harry: the angel (“We’ve been called that.”) who goes against procedure and risks everything because his conscience tells him that what’s happening is wrong. Harry is the one who has the most to lose by doing what he thinks is right, and he does it anyway.

And regarding Harry’s supervisor, Richardson (John Slattery), if you don’t think, halfway through the movie, that it would be fun to see this story from Richardson’s point of view (someone who just wants to do his job, but there’s this guy who keeps throwing wrenches in the system), then you need to have your sense of humor adjusted.

The Adjustment Movie is the perfect date movie: it has romance for the ladies, enough action for the gents, and since it actually leaves you thinking, you have something to talk about after the movie. In the press materials, Damon calls it a popcorn movie. Considering what the term has come to mean in the last decade or so, I think that it does The Adjustment Bureau an injustice to all it that. The Adjustment Bureau is intelligent entertainment.

Verdict: very recommended



  1. It packs a little of everything into an entertaining package: love story, mystery, action and discussion about free will and fate. Good review, check out mine when you can!

    Comment by CMrok93 — 7. March 2011 @ 21:24

  2. I’ve heard people call the movie “2011’s Matrix with a heart.”

    Comment by jensaltmann — 8. March 2011 @ 09:08

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