The Adjustment Bureau review and warning

Thursday, March 10, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

The Adjustment BureauIn the interest of transparency let me start with the warning first. You may have seen the slightly quirky low concept retro styled posters for The Adjustment Bureau posted around your town. I have. I have also noticed how in big bold black lettering it says “INCEPTION MEETS BOURNE” across the top of the poster, or something to that effect. You may have also seen the rather serious with menacing undertones Adjustment Bureau trailer below, as I did after watching The Adjustment Bureau.

***** WARNING ******
The Adjustment Bureau is NOT; I repeat NOT - INCEPTION MEETS BOURNE or a darkly menacing tale. It is something else. Do not go to the cinema expecting any of that, otherwise you will be disappointed.
***** WARNING ENDS ******

The Adjustment Bureau
Matt Damon David Norris campaigning for the Oval Office

I wasn’t familiar with Philip K. Dick’s original 50s short story Adjustment Team but had a quick look at it after seeing The Adjustment Bureau and it seems as in line with Dick’s 20 page short story obviously with added zing, updated and hooked into our modern zeitgeist.

In all fairness Philip K. Dick hasn’t really had a good run of late. A couple of his stories have been translated into cinematic masterpieces and the rest, well, haven’t. Even fewer have stayed true to Philip K. Dick’s original version of the story. His material is incredibly ingenious and covers a broad spectrum of topics and issues - and much of it has been pilfered over the years and seen on screen or bled into our consciousness in some format or other. Another issue that plagues his works is that his stories always seems to need a contemporary update to resonate with modern audiences - and that is where things more often than not head south. So when I hear that a Philip K. Dick adaptation is on the way I’m ever hopeful but never too surprised if it doesn’t shine.

The Adjustment Bureau Trailer

Based on the little bit of marketing I had seen I went into a screening of The Adjustment Bureau expecting something dark, and well possibly something of a variation on Dark City, but was also curious due to the rather simplistic retro & quirky imagery of The Adjustment Bureau posters as well as curious about the hats.

Another strong factor in favour of The Adjustment Bureau are the leads; Matt Damon is one of the few consistently reliable actors in Hollywood, if he is in a film - chances are it will probably be enjoyable, if only for his performance. And you can’t go wrong with the talented Emily Blunt. I’m glad to see her in films that will introduce her to a wider audience.

The Adjustment Bureau
Emily Blunt as Elise Sellas in The Adjustment Bureau

If you have seen the trailer above you know that Matt Damon is David Norris a young, charismatic, political hopeful (he’s playing himself in The Adjustment Bureau). Well he is under a lot of pressure as his campaign to move up the political ladder is not going as well as he would like, also he has also recently met a young woman Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) completely outside his usual circles and like a breathe of fresh air he can’t get enough of her. Just when things start to look like they may be going well he undergoes some sort of event/breakdown and is plagued by a team of hat wearing suited individuals called The Adjustment Bureau.

Unfortunately the omnipresent and powerful Adjustment Bureau are insistent on driving the two apart, which in essence the heart of the story. Does Matt Damon sit back and adopt a copacetic attitude or does he follow his heart and pull a Jason Bourne? That is run a lot and challenge the seemingly all powerful Adjustment Bureau.

The Adjustment Bureau is a great little story much in the same vein as a very well made extended episode of The Twilight Zone or Amazing Stories from first time Director George Nolfi who previously wrote The Bourne Ultimatum, The Sentinel and Ocean's Twelve.

The Adjustment Bureau
The Adjustment Bureau

Much of your enjoyment of The Adjustment Bureau is going to come down to whether you buy into the romance between Matt Damon’s character and Emily Blunt’s character and whether you think she is worth the torturous effort that Damon’s character undergoes in pursuing her. Well that is the crux of every cinematic romance all the way from Romeo & Juliet through to Solaris.

It is unfortunate that The Adjustment Bureau was not released a couple of weeks sooner as it would have made a great Valentine’s Day release. If I had known more about the quirky sci-fi romance at the heart of the story I would have probably held out - and gone to see it with my other half as I know it would have been a better viewing experience.

The chemistry between Damon & Blunt is palpable, mainly due to both leads have bucket loads of charisma and you can’t but help like Matt Damon's portrayal of a honest smart politician willing to forsake it all for a crack at Emily Blunt’s loveable, clever, talented dancer.

The Adjustment Bureau is a decent showing with faultless production values, the effects and concepts around the very high concept Bureau are kept fairly simple and clean. They harken back to a period, closer to a time where Philip K Dick’s work was actually set.

The Adjustment Bureau
Out run your fate

Typically a film follows a 3 part structure, which I have further corrupted into a two half breakdown, the first part you are trying to figure out what is going on and the parameters of the universe the film creates, then there is a reveal where it is all explained and the remainder of the film is the narrative leading to its conclusion. I say halves but a half is not a measurement of film timeline. But rather a two halves of narrative structure that make a whole story.

Herewith an infographic of The Adjustment Bureau’s two halves:

The 2 halves of the Adjustment Bureau

The tale of the two halves tells us the first half starts off well - with likeable characters as the film establishing itself, then we find out about The Adjustment Bureau, how it operates and the crux of the story. Which was a bit of a let down for me as I said earlier I was expecting something slightly darker, more Inception like. The second half picks up as the part of the story where the action kicks in and the characters try out run their fate.

In the bigger scheme of things the real challenge for The Adjustment Bureau is whether:
- a mostly male sci-fi audience will be able to go with the light quirky sci-fi aspects of the story as well as the larger romance part of the story?

- will a mainly female orientated romantic audience enjoy quirky sci-fi aspects of the story?
Of course, the above is a gross generalisation of real people (like all demographics) and there is a lot of crossover between all of the segments. But I think the point stands.

If you are in the mood for a quirky sci-fi’ish romance or even better, a date film - The Adjustment Bureau is the film for you.

The Adjustment Bureau is in cinemas from 4 March, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau
The Adjustment Bureau Poster