The television show “The Twilight Zone” often used a characteristic formula in many of its episodes: introduce a character, inject an element of the supernatural and reveal just enough of the unknown for the character to discover what remains by the end of the show.
“The Adjustment Bureau” follows a similar formula and at times evokes memories of the classic show. But in the end, director and writer George Nolfi misuses what is an interesting premise by relying on too many clichs for the movie to float on its own.
Matt Damon plays David Norris, a young and reckless politician who develops a crush on Elise, played by Emily Blunt, after a chance encounter with her during his unsuccessful bid for Senate. Norris’ world is turned upside down a few weeks later when he accidentally discovers that all of humanity has been pre-determined by some unknown higher power. Whenever the actions of human beings deviate too far from the ultimate plan, they are “adjusted” by a strange group called the Adjustment Bureau.
While Norris is allowed this glance behind the faade of free will, the members of the Adjustment Bureau he encounters warn him that if he tells anyone of his discovery they will reset his memory. To make matters worse, they tell him that his budding relationship with Elise is not part of the instructed plan, so they will ensure that he never sees her again. Obviously this does not go over well with Norris, who spends the rest of the movie trying to skirt the wishes of the Bureau and rekindle his relationship with Elise.
“The Adjustment Bureau” is a difficult movie to categorize. Viewers may assume based on its marketing techniques and what is revealed in its television previews that it is typical science fiction fare. But in actuality, “The Adjustment Bureau” is more of a romance that just so happens to incorporate supernatural elements to advance the overall plotline.
Deeply engrained in the script of “The Adjustment Bureau” is the traditional Romeo and Juliet clich of a couple trying to overcome the hardships of forbidden love. In this case, however, the hardships are brought on by supernatural characters overzealously tinkering with society to advance a predetermined plan. Gratuitous amounts of shaky-cam chase sequences are thrown into the fray for the thriller effect, reminiscent of Matt Damon and George Nolfi’s previous collaboration, “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
While the movie attempts to mix sci-fi, thriller and romance, the cinematic whole is not greater than the sum of its genre parts and just leaves the viewer desiring a more focused effort from Nolfi’s directorial debut.
Don’t expect anything stellar from the cast either. Matt Damon delivers the same one-dimensional performance that has become his acting forte. While the Coen brother’s “True Grit” allowed for his career to recover after playing the lead in Clint Eastwood’s critical flop “Hereafter,” the similarities in both character and theme in “The Adjustment Bureau” to Eastwood’s latest feels like another step in the wrong direction.
Emily Blunt delivers the strongest performance in an overall weak dramatic offering from her peers, creating a character that is both likeable and genuine. It is her interaction with Damon that drives the viewer’s desire to see the couple overcome the odds and end up together.
While the most prominent members of the mysterious Bureau, played by Anthony Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp, are supposed to be relatively emotionless, the characters are too flat to be interesting. Even Anthony Mackie’s character, who is supposed to feel sorry for the characters of Norris and Elise, fails to capture any flicker of emotion from the viewer.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of “The Adjustment Bureau” is its predictable ending that lacks the creativity usually associated with typical science fiction flicks.
It’s as if the filmmakers spent 95 percent of the movie developing the earth-shattering fact that humanity has absolutely no free will, and spends the other 5 percent propelling the viewer in a hysteric race to the most obvious of conclusions for the story. The rushed and unimaginative ending is completed by a pre-packaged take-home message about choosing your own destiny.
It’s not to say that every movie needs a never-see-it-coming ending that completely blows the viewer’s mind. Superb acting, a sharp script and beautiful cinematography can make even the simplest of stories shine on the silver screen.
But when a movie lacks any of these redeeming cinematic qualities the screenwriter better be prepared to deliver an “aha” moment, especially when the movie falls in the easy-to-be-shallow science fiction genre.
It would be unfair to say that “The Adjustment Bureau” is a complete failure of a movie. The plot is just interesting enough to warrant modest attention and the love interest just genuine enough to satisfy most moviegoers’ desire for a happy ending.
But science fiction fans ultimately will be among those most disappointed. Just like Norris, this crowd would be much more comfortable never having discovered the world according to “The Adjustment Bureau.”