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Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

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Expanding a short story has to be tricky work. Broaden things too much and you lose what made the original so great. Add the wrong things and the entire production could go awry. While it worked to love it or hate it status with Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, now we’ve got something far more mainstream but still highly intelligent with Philip K. Dick’s The Adjustment Bureau.


After getting a few notches on his belt by writing or co-writing some higher profile films (Timeline, Ocean’s Twelve, The Bourne Ultimatum, and even The Sentinel) George Nolfi’s first outing behind the camera is a doozey. Bringing on the man he’s worked with twice before probably doesn’t hurt either. Star Matt Damon was also in his Ocean’s and Bourne entries. Teaming Damon up with Emily Blunt is also a thing of beauty. Here are two actors who can really act yet also bring a whopping amount of sincerity to their characters’ plight.

In the film, David Norris (Damon) is running for New York Senator. Featured on everything from The Daily Show to the cover of GQ, it looks like a sure-fire win. However, all hope is suddenly lost after a scandalous mooning incident and Norris takes to a restroom to practice his losing speech. When Elise (Blunt) sneaks out of what David thought were empty stalls they are both instantly smitten. David can’t help but feel a strong case of déjà vu and they kiss before being interrupted by David’s right-hand man Charlie (Michael Kelly). After Elise inspires an off the cuff and heartfelt speech instead of what Charlie wrote for him, David thinks he’ll never see Elise again.

However, he runs into her on a bus that he’s not supposed to catch thanks to his watcher, Harry (Anthony Mackie), sleeping through what was supposed to be a coffee spill causing him to miss the bus. Now the “Adjustment Bureau” has to correct David and Elise’s paths splitting them up once again but not before Elise can give him her number. Walking in on the “Intervention Team” having a once over on Charlie in his office before a big meeting, David’s taken hostage and into what looks like an abandoned warehouse where it’s explained to him that he is not to expose his peak behind this wall that he’s not even supposed to know exists and that he must never see Elise again or the Bureau will erase his brain and everyone will think he’s gone crazy.

Cut to three years later and David is running for Senate again when he finally runs into Elise, once more riding the same bus every day to work for those three years. Thinking that the two running into each other is far greater than mere chance–and despite what the Bureau may have to say about it–David takes this opportunity to try to win back Elise, making up a story about being mugged and losing her number. Coming out of anyone else’s mouth there’s no way you’d buy that story but like I said, with Damon in charge and with Blunt by his side, suspension of disbelief is far easier to buy than usual. To say anymore about the plot would be ludicrous and ruin the fun.

Speaking of which, this film is just that: a lot of fun. If you thought Inception was a great head trip you’re going to enjoy this film too. Here we get the same sense of awe and wonder but on a slightly smaller, yet far more realistic, level. This movie is guaranteed to send paranoia into a fever pitch. Here is a film that could easily be dismissed as an Inception sequel but it’s working on its own level. Decide for yourself about its religious themes, at least it never takes itself too seriously and gives us two actors with some true chemistry. 


Director Nolfi has apparently picked up some great tricks of the trade after working alongside the likes of Richard Donner, Steven Soderbergh, and Paul Greengrass. The man can film a great action scene, even if it consists of Damon simply running through the streets. The cinematography from John Toll and the score by Thomas Newman are both top notch as well. Thinking about it now, the last time I loved so much about one movie happened to be Inception last year. It doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence anymore that this was bumped from last summer’s slate and moved to this spring instead — it has the thrills of a summer blockbuster, but also has the intelligence and soulfulness usually only afforded to a film released just in time for Oscar season. With both of these aspects melding beautifully, it looks like Universal Pictures has found the perfect spot for something like this; here’s the first great film of 2011. 

About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival.