Netflix UK film review: The Adjustment Bureau
Mark Harrison | On 04, Oct 2015
Director: George Nolfi
Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Terence Stamp
Watch The Adjustment Bureau online in the UK: Netflix UK / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
The works of author Philip K. Dick have inspired a wealth of screen adaptations over the years, from the seminal sci-fi of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner to the fantastically forgettable Nicolas Cage vehicle, Next. George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau is hardly the most catchily named of the bunch, but it more than stands up as a genre-crossing modern parable.
Loosely based on Dick’s short story, Adjustment Team, we find United States Representative David Norris (Damon) as he suffers an embarrassing election defeat, following a tabloid hatchet job. Stuck in a rut, he meets and is instantly attracted to party-crasher Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), who inspires him to give a rallying cry that makes him an immediate shoo-in for the next election.
He has no way of getting in contact with the mystery woman, but somehow David keeps bumping into Elise. It seems like fate, until it transpires that men in hats (here represented by the likes of Anthony Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp) are literally trying to keep them apart on behalf of fate itself. With omnipotent forces trying to force him away from Elise, David has to fight to change his destiny and re-assert his free will.
The result is a film that’s firmly in the tradition of magical realism, with antagonists who have the capacity to bend the geography of New York on a whim and even reset the course of a life, according to an all-encompassing “plan”. It also just so happens to broach those three taboo topics in polite conversation: sex, politics and (most uncomfortably) religion. Nolfi’s film isn’t quite as adventurous as that would suggest, but it is, at least, endearingly paranoid.
The main draw here is the chemistry between Damon and Blunt. Both actors have shown likeable screen presence in their respective careers, but they’ve seldom been better than they are when they’re together. They sizzle, but their romance remains relatively sweet and chaste, as evidenced in the exceedingly tasteful love scene that they share.
But writer/director Nolfi has less of a grasp on the central conceit of the film and the vagaries herein lead to some puzzling moments early on. Stamp clears things up a little when he arrives on the scene as Thompson, bringing all of the necessary gravitas to a monologue about why free will is fundamentally bad for humankind, which lends the titular bureau a much-needed sense of scale. On the receiving end of their interference, Damon and Blunt sometimes resemble a modern equivalent of the leads in the 1946 Powell & Pressburger classic A Matter Of Life & Death, in which David Niven and Kim Hunter’s characters have to validate their love with a higher power. They’re more than up to the challenge, but the film falters just a little by playing it safe in the third act; Nolfi aims to be spiritual without being specific and succeeds up to a point, but a studio-mandated change of ending muddies the waters.
Nonetheless, the irresistible central couple carry the movie through and its tendency to leap around between science fiction, romance and political thriller means that it has a lot to offer many different viewers. The Adjustment Bureau is a thoughtful and earnestly unconventional love story that warrants a watch.
The Adjustment Bureau is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.