Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Emily Blunt and Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau
Photo: Universal Pictures

The Adjustment Bureau is a casting coup. It has all the right names in all the right places. With two other actors in the lead roles I’m afraid to think of what it would have become, but with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt opposite one another the result is a romantic thriller with all the liveliness Hitchcock would be proud of. It conjures memories of such teamings as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint and James Stewart and Kim Novak.

Mixing politics, religion and science fiction into a film that should largely be classified a romance, writer-director George Nolfi (co-writer of The Bourne Ultimatum) has turned Philip K. Dick’s short story about love on the run into a surprisingly entertaining film well worth watching.

Damon stars as David Norris, an up-and-coming New York politician with the charisma that immediately leads you to suspect his political career is heading toward the White House. However, fate has dealt him a critical blow as the press has published some scandalous photos sending his current bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate down the drain.

Only minutes before his concession speech an unexpected bathroom rendezvous finds David in the electric midst of Elise (Blunt), a beautiful contemporary dancer that just so happens to be hiding from security after crashing an upstairs wedding. Yeah, Elise is exactly the kind of person David should probably stay clear of if a career in politics is what he wants, but the mutual attraction between the two is too much to ignore.

The chemistry is instant, and not only between Elise and David, but between Damon and Blunt. By the time this one scene is over my expectations for the film had increased ten fold based solely on the back-and-forth banter between the two actors. Their ability to play off one another is uncanny as the unlikely nature of the scene is lost in their ability to make you believe everything they’re saying. And just as soon as you grow attached to the idea of them together, they’re immediately torn apart.

The story quickly jumps three years into the future. David and Elise haven’t seen each other since that first meeting and not for a lack of trying on David’s part. It’s almost as if something is keeping them apart. Enter, the men with hats, the titular Adjustment Bureau. The silliness gets ramped up at this point as what appeared to be just a typical romantic dramedy turns into a sci-fi thriller, and a ridiculous one at that. But the tongue-in-cheek nature of it all only heightens the entertainment.

The Adjustment Bureau never takes itself too seriously even if the characters do. The fact you believe the attraction between Damon and Blunt keeps the dramatic tension intact while a bunch of other lunacy and misdirection is allowed to take place. Opposite the film’s romantic angle the stone-faced determination of the clandestine Adjustment Bureau is led by the silver-haired “Mad Men” star John Slattery, given a heart by Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) and given a hammer by Terence Stamp (Billy Budd, The Hit). As much as the performances of the two leads are integral, Slattery, Mackie and Stamp play the perfect foils.

I should add the film hits a couple of snags and a few narrative bumps along the road, slowing the briskly paced story, but it’s merely an instance of stumbling blocks for an otherwise jaunty feature. Thomas Newman’s score is bouyant and mysterious and two time Oscar-winner John Toll’s (The Thin Red Line) cinematography keeps up with the story’s quick pace.

I was a big fan of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt before I ever saw this movie, but this is some of the best work I’ve seen from both to date as I couldn’t imagine anyone taking over their roles. I know this is a declaration typically left for films likely to earn actors Oscar fare, but when the talent on display gives a movie as much life as these two add here it’s only right to say so.

The year-long delay did worry me going in, but the directorial debut of George Nolfi didn’t let me down as he knew exactly the pieces he needed to tell a fun and entertaining story that serves as a solid pre-summer release.


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Weekend: Oct. 24, 2019, Oct. 27, 2019

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