By Brian Lafferty
March 6, 2011 (San Diego) – After my mother died last November I learned something about myself: I have no regrets. I never say, “If only…” Instead, I tell myself, “If it weren’t for…” When I look back on my first twenty-five years of existence I see that I wouldn’t be where I am now if I did anything differently.
I consider myself happy, so I don’t waste time thinking about the what-ifs. The Adjustment Bureau explores this theme of fate. What if we don’t have free will? What if ethereal forces already predetermine everything in our lives? What direction would a man’s life take if he didn’t spill a cup of coffee all over his suit on his way to the bus?
That man is failed Senatorial candidate Matt Damon. After a miserable loss, he meets and falls for a nice woman (Emily Blunt). We also see men adorned with 1960s Mad Men-style business suits, ties, and hats. We learn that one of them (Anthony Mackie) was supposed to bump into Damon and spill his coffee so he could go back home and miss the bus. Instead, he takes the bus and happens upon Blunt. The problem? He was never supposed to see her again.
So he learns from the title Bureau. He is ordered to stay away from her for reasons too complex to explain in this review. That’s easier said than done. Despite the potential consequences, he is determined to be with her, even if it means the whole human race is thrown into chaos.
The Adjustment Bureau works because the love between Damon and Blunt is strong. Their solid chemistry together makes credible Damon’s determination to be with her.
The great acting extends to the Bureau’s agents. Mackie plays the young, sympathetic agent, who refuses to play by the rules. His performance is easy to overlook. John Slattery is his supervisor, who has a firm grasp of company policy. His performance is a balanced combination of toughness, nurturing, and mentorship towards Mackie and a no-nonsense, honest attitude towards Damon.
Even stauncher in his application of Bureau policy is Terence Stamp. His cold demeanor and haunting stare reminded me of Frank Langella, who would have fit nicely into this role.
These men may dress the same but writer and director George Nolfi spends a great amount of time making them unique. I enjoyed seeing the three of them and their personalities clash.
Nolfi has experience writing action movies (The Bourne Ultimatum) but he eschews this style in favor of an existential approach. The movie could have been made into an action film but I don’t believe that would have worked for this story. I enjoyed the philosophical angle because it allows for a deep exploration into the themes of destiny and love. As convoluted as the plot is, it still leaves ample room for a thought-provoking character study.
I enjoyed the picture up until the ending. The finale is so contrived and arbitrary that it threatens to completely diminish the events leading up to it. It reduces the movie from great to good. I still recommend the picture but only mildly. If anybody needed intervention from the Adjustment Bureau, it’s whoever came up with the ending.
The Adjustment Bureau is currently playing in local theaters.
A Universal Pictures release. Written and Directed by George Nolfi. Music by Thomas Newman. Cinematography by John Toll. With Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and Terence Stamp. Rated PG-13.