Home > Film > The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

When you watch The Adjustment Bureau, there’s a big elephant in the room (particularly at the end) so we might as well get it out into the open from the beginning. Let’s think about the set-up. We have these “immortal” beings on Earth to keep us to the Plan. What Plan, you ask, noting the capital P? Well, the Chairman (who had another name in years gone by) has a Plan for everyone in the world. From time to time, we were allowed completely free will and we messed up. First there were the Dark Ages, so God took us back under His wing, and then, from 1910 onwards, we managed two world wars, a depression and. . . well, let’s just say the Cuban missile crisis was going to blow up the world, so the renamed Chairman decided enough was enough and put us back on the Plan.

Now, the good news is that we do still have free will. We can either go with the Plan or opt out knowing the dire consequences likely to follow from that choice. Think of it in explicitly Christian terms for a moment. There’s always a Final Judgment. It’s unavoidable when we die. If we stay with God’s Plan, we get Heaven. The Other Place is waiting for those who decided they would rather go their own way.

I confess to despairing of Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader because it took a very simple Christian message and overelaborated to the point where the message was confused, if not, lost. This has a more straightforward approach and, without putting up a signboard saying, “Here be the Christian message” manages to speak to those of a Christian persuasion. For those of you like me who are atheists, it’s still a good film. Everyone can take heart from the idea that, if you fight hard enough for the things that are important to you, you will often force others to bend and allow you to realise your dreams and ambitions.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's first meeting

The Adjustment Bureau is a delightful romance framed as a fantasy. For once, I am going to stand up and applaud the leading actors. In the majority of films, you get two randomly matched stars thrown together on screen and told they must have chemistry. In some cases, it’s obvious they don’t even like each other. In the remainder, you can see them acting smouldering passion with the enthusiasm of a guttering candle. Here Matt Damon is remarkably likeable and engaging from the first moment he appears. You really could see him as a successful politician with a charisma the size of New York. Emily Blunt is also wonderfully quirky in a distinctly British way. I’m hopeful the American audience will appreciate quite how nuanced the performance is. The result is instant chemistry. The script calls for them to feel attracted to each other from first sight and everyone will get that. In fact, I would go so far as to say that their performances as a couple lift this film from the ordinary to a very different level.

The Team tries an appeal to reason

The rest of the cast are all pleasingly competent with Anthony Mackie troubled by his conscience, John Slattery feeling frustrated and out of his depth, and Terence Stamp cleverly underplaying the role of Thomson, The Hammer. It’s also amusing to play catch the walk-ons with Michael Bloomberg and one or two others allowed fleeting moments on screen.

But my biggest round of applause goes to George Nolfi who is credited with both the direction and the screenplay (based on the short story “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick). From Bladerunner in 1982 onwards, there’s been a gold rush to P. K. Dick for script ideas. One or two have been remarkably successful. The majority have varied between the interesting and the dire. In a sense, this mirrors Dick’s work. I confess to being a completist, having managed to get firsts of everything he wrote. I therefore come to this film carrying the heavy burden of encyclopaedic knowledge. Dick was badly affected by his drug-taking habit and, at times, suffered paranoid delusions, many of which inform his writing. Thus, the “Adjustment Team” is rooted firmly in the paranoia of the Cold War with a realtor whose arrival at work is not delayed, so he gets to see the Team at work. He’s then whisked upstairs to meet with the Old Man who explains the grander political purpose behind the adjustments. Nolfi’s decision to restructure the whole story into a modern parable about free will and determinism is immensely satisfying. The original is, to put it mildly, slight. This film is not only genuinely entertaining as a romance, but also pleasingly provocative in persuading even hard-bitten cynics like me to consider the possibility that good things may come to those who struggle against Fate.

Although I might nitpick one or two scenes and say they went on too long or there were problems, this would miss the point. It’s wisdom with the benefit of hindsight. As it stands, the film picks you up and carries you along to the end without time to think. It follows its own logic, particularly as to ripple effects when the Team are monitoring probabilities in realtime. I unhesitatingly recommend this to everyone who enjoys quietly thoughtful drama. There are no car chases or explosions — although people do run around a little — with everything being resolved with a great sense of style and rationality. The only other comment I would make is that I was reminded of a greatly underrated science fiction drama series called The Lost Room where doors can take you to where you want to go. On television, you use a key. On the big screen, you need a trilby for the same trick. As a final thought, don’t be taken in by the marketing hype claiming this is, “Bourne meets Inception”. In fact, The Adjustment Bureau is not a thriller with people shooting each other, nor is it set as a dream. See the film for what it is and not because of some hack sloganeering.

This film has been shortlisted for the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation 2011.


  1. E C
    November 10, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    So I just caught the Channel 4 screening of this film

    I suppose if you take it as a film with a Christian message, it makes some sense. But the moment where the middle ages were described as the dark ages only applies to Europe – perhaps the Christian church and its people were going through dark times, but the Arabic/ Mooris/Islamic world was at its height, and preserved the knowledge ready for Europe to take up when it was ready again.

    The Chairman would know this, and we can understand that his adjustment team might not know the whole story. But does George Nolfi?

    But yes, overall, a great, light film.

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