The Adjustment Bureau Movie Review

Philip K. Dick is a renowned science fiction novelist that was one of the few who knew what they were doing when writing for the genre. Many seem content making your typical movie about aliens, or monsters, but Dick always saw past that. His work was not about the aliens or the phenomena or the actual "science fiction" of his books, but the humans who were affected by the situations they found themselves in. His novels were about sociopolitical situations and themes, about corporate and governmental greed, about theology, about the corrupted state of the human mind.

One would argue that the actual "science fiction" of his novels were more a setting than a theme, and that can very well be attributed to "The Adjustment Bureau", the latest film adaptation of his many works.

Odds are that if you have never read a Dick novel, you've likely seen one of the many movie adaptations that have been borrowed by Hollywood over the years. Unfortunately for him, Philip K. Dick spent most his life in poverty and never got to see the affect of his writing on many generations of movies and moviegoers. The first Dick adaptation stands to this day as the most influential and most popular (and arguably the best movie). Blade Runner, one of the most influential science fiction films of all time, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford, was ironically released only months after Dick's passing. Total Recall was probably the "loosest" interpretation of his novels, but again, one of the most popular, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. A remake starring Colin Ferrell is in the works and is said to be closer to Dick's original story.

Dick's influence on the science fiction movie genre continued into the 21st century, the time that most science fiction writers wrote about back in his time, with Tom Cruise's and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report in 2002, which did a decent job of translating the themes that Dick intended, but changed the plot in order to fit a more action-oriented type of movie. Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck was up the next year, and then A Scanner Darkly in 2006, which is notable due to the "rotoscoping" process used to film the movie, which was shot in live action and then animated.

As mentioned, Dick's influence continues into 2011 and this decade, with The Adjustment Bureau being Hollywood's latest offering of Dick's work. And despite all this talk of Dick's influence and his writing, the one thing that the movie, starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt and written and directed by first timer George Nolfi (screenwriter for Ocean's 12 and The Bourne Ultimatum), the film falls a little short of being as influential as the man who put forth the original short story.

The Adjustment Bureau is not at all a bad movie. It's a good movie. But the problem is, it had potential to be so much more than just a good time at the movies. Nolfi introduces, nay, teases, maybe theological themes in this film with a socio-political front, but instead of pushing the limits of religion and faith, as Dick would have likely wanted, the writer/director/producer is simply satisfied with making the film a love story. And again, I have to stress that this is not a bad thing. Nolfi had something good going for him when he realized that stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt had incredible on-screen chemistry, and that they make this film work.

In the film, David Norris (Damon) is an up-and-coming politician who is running for senate in New York. Dubbed as the youngest congressman ever elected to office, he ends up being a little too young, as a college reunion folly single-handedly manages to cost him the election. While preparing for his post-election speech, he encounters a dancer and, in that moment, a wedding crasher, Elise (Blunt), who encourages him to speak from the heart instead of the crap that's fed to him by expensive analysts and consultants. It works, and despite losing, David is well on his way to a win in four years.

All of this was part of the plan. Norris was supposed to meet this woman once and forget about her. But a mistake allows him to meet her again, by chance, the next day, and the seeds are planted for a three year chase for the girl of his dream. That of course doesn't sit well with the "adjusters", a group of people sent to make sure everything goes according to "the chairman's" plan, as they try to do everything they can to get into David's way.

There really isn't much that's unrealistic about the film once you forget that these "adjusters" can open doors that lead to the other side of the city and the references to them being angelic and their "chairman" being God. The Adjustment Bureau is really meant to be a grounded story about two characters who love each other, and who will stick by each other no matter what anyone puts in their way, no matter how strong or how omnipresent and ubiquitous they might seem to be.

But in the end, you can tell that the producers and the writer were holding a lot back when making this. The religious themes introduced by Nolfi could have been somewhat controversial, and you can tell by all the delays the film's release suffered, and the fact that scenes were re-filmed months after production was wrapped that it's likely that the studio may have thought the film pushed a few buttons in its original form. These religious themes could be interpreted in many different ways. But I don't believe Nolfi when he says that the "intention of this film is to raise questions". I believe he was held back by an uncertain studio and distributor, and it's really a shame, because the film has a lot more potential than the final product.

Still, it didn't stop me from enjoying The Adjustment Bureau and the story and themes it puts forth, but one has to think that the intention of George Nolfi was to make something a little more inspiring, a little more daring, a little more like what Philip K. Dick would have likely done, and the end-product suffers from that "what if" syndrome.

You can call Nolfi's film many things, but one thing you cannot call it is daring. Roger Ebert put it best when he said ""The Adjustment Bureau" is a smart and good movie that could have been a great one if it had a little more daring. I suspect the filmmakers were reluctant to follow its implications too far" in his review. And that's where it falls short of being a true tribute to one of the 20th century's greatest writers.

Nevertheless, this shouldn't stop you from going to see another good film from Matt Damon. Better With Popcorn scores "The Adjustment Bureau" a 7.5 out of 10.

Comments 3
Justin Traviss's picture

I did not know this was based on a Phil Dick story. My 1% interest in this flick just went up to about 45%. Neat.

George Prax's picture

lol not a Damon fan I take it? I've always admired him as an actor so this has interested me for a while. But ya, it's "loosely" based on a Dick story but it's not as "loose" as say Total Recall. Still a pretty good flick even if they held back a lot.

Justin Traviss's picture

I am neutral to Damon and pretty much neutral to everything about this movie until the Dick came into play. His stuff is neat. Often even when they Hollywoodize the hell out of it. It's good to have fresh ideas running around Hollywood.

That being said, I am kinda "all-talk", since I haven't actually READ a K. Dick story. Just about the first chapter of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Neat stuff though.