Adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story first published in the 1950s, screenwriter George Nolfi’s directorial debut The Adjustment Bureau (2011) is less sci-fi-thriller and more timeless romance than perhaps anyone may ever have expected from the writer of The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).
Carefully but never dutifully maintaining a highly watchable neutral on the Hollywood barometer of sentimentality, The Adjustment Bureau refreshingly couples a philosophically heady concept with a simplistic story of love that doesn’t skip on action. Indeed, so perfectly balanced are its many chase sequences with its themes of love and fate, that one could easily envisage the film as being the result of some unfinished script by Billy Wilder during Hollywood’s golden era.
Taking to the big screen for the fourth time in a still relatively young 2011, Matt Damon continues to spend his career in high demand, and it’s easy to see why. Following his smaller roles in the excellent True Grit (2011) and the best forgotten Hereafter (2011), The Adjustment Bureau sees him as congressman David Norris, who set for political greatness, has his world literally warped by a serendipitously encounter with a beautiful woman called Elise; playfully portrayed by an infectiously charming Emily Blunt.
Likable and more importantly believable, Damon’s embodiment of the role couldn’t be more tailored to his calm and sturdy demeanor. It’s difficult to imagine any other actor of his caliber pulling off all the requirements demanded of the role. With the steady sure voice that he commendably lent to the narration of the Oscar-winning Inside Job (2010) last month, he’s more than convincing when delivering charismatic, political speeches. Little comment is needed on the action side of things, but it should be noted that not once is it possible to mistake David, or anything else in the film for that matter, as something out of Bourne.
Most impressive however is the chemistry Damon and Blunt manage to convey in only a few scenes, on which the entire film hinges. Had their connection not been as visible the audience would have been robbed of all emotional investment from the off. Conversely, were the initial spark between them been any brighter it would’ve been blinding.
Shortly after their few chance meetings, David is picked up by a mysterious group of men who inform him that his meeting with Elise has taken his life ‘off script’, as it were, and that they’ll never meet again. What follows is a series of metaphysical twists and turns culminating in an exceptionally well handled, against the odds dash for love.
Although ultimately a fairly lighthearted and easy to swallow piece of entertainment, The Adjustment Bureau’s pitting of fate against freewill and love against success, not only makes for a highly engrossing viewing experience, but also for one imbued with an acute and pensive undertone that runs delicately throughout. A feeling that is by no small measure attributable to the distinctive brilliance that seasoned composed Thomas Newman (American Beauty , The Shawshank Redemption ) brings to the film; his score evoking a tender and isolated sadness – a counter-balance to the weight of David’s big decisions.
Fizzling out just a touch too abruptly, whatever dissatisfaction maybe felt at its conclusion does little to overshadow the rest of Nolfi’s superb efforts. Be it part of a plan, by chance, or preferably by freewill, let us hope that Nolfi is soon back in the directing chair.