When I saw The Adjustment Bureau trailer, with its smartly dressed men in fedoras going through portals and freezing time, I turned to my companion and said, “If you liked Inception. . .”
For sure, Universal Pictures wants us to think that The Adjustment Bureau is Inception-esque, but if anything, it’s actually more Capra-esque. It’s a story about a little guy going up against powerful cosmic forces to be with his one true love, and it’s downright quaint by today’s sci-fi standards (not totally surprising since it’s based on a Philip K. Dick story that was written in 1954).
Matt Damon plays David Norris, a maverick politician from Brooklyn who’s considered to be a rising star. But when a photo of him mooning some old college buddies is leaked to the press, his senatorial run is derailed. In the bathroom, just before he goes on stage to make his concession speech, he meets a free-spirited young woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) and they share a connection and a kiss. He fears he will never see her again, but several months later, he’s on a bus and there she is! Seems like fate, right?. But why is a gentleman (Anthony Mackie) with a fedora and a curiously-marked notebook following David so urgently in the shadows?
Turns out, the man in the hat is an adjuster—either an agent of God or a bureaucratic thwarter of free will, depending on your interpretation—whose job it is to make sure that David doesn’t deviate from the master plan. David wasn’t supposed to reconnect with Elise. He was supposed to run for Senate again and eventually become president. Now the Adjustment Bureau—all wearing hats, with the ability to slip easily through space, stop time, and even erase memories—is after him. They need to convince David that if he continues to see Elise, he will ruin her life, as well as his own.
The Adjustment Bureau is slick and good-looking—the portals are certainly nice, especially when one takes David and Elise from a coat room onto the field at Yankee Stadium—but it barely stirred me.
One of the problems? I hate to say it, but the two leads. I admire both actors, but think they’re best when they’re playing against type. Emily Blunt’s sharpest performance remains her perpetually annoyed assistant in The Devil Wears Prada and Damon was so great as the smarmy villain in The Departed. As a couple of good guys, they just don’t generate enough heat. As such, I was actually a bit ambivalent about David and Elise’s plight (free will, free shmill, I thought at one point). Probably not what the filmmakers were going for.
To read my complete The Adjustment Bureau review, check out the April issue of Baltimore.