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Review: The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

Directed by: George Nolfi

Premise: An adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story. An aspiring politician (Matt Damon) uncovers a mysterious organization that shapes world history by managing individual choices. When he falls for a talented ballerina dancer (Emily Blunt) against the wishes of the plan, the politician must race against forces of fate and design to assert his free will.

What Works: The Adjustment Bureau is a unique combination of different film genres. It mixes the kinds of philosophical themes explored in films like The Matrix, I Heart Huckabees, and even It’s a Wonderful Life and presents them inside of the familiar frames of thriller and romance stories. This combination is very complimentary. The philosophical investigation gives the film its substance but it does not get bogged down in exposition and the story connects the implications of the philosophy to the drama. The mystery and romance provide a recognizable context for the themes of the story to play out, which gives the audience with a way to make sense out of what they are seeing. The romance between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt’s characters has a lot of authenticity to it and the two actors sell the passion between these two without resorting to histrionics or unnecessary sentimentality. The mystery also moves along well and the film simultaneously pushes its characters into a confrontation with their desires and with the architects of fate. The way the film links these elements together is very impressive and it makes the climax of The Adjustment Bureau a nail biter as the audience is invested in the love story and engaged with the ideas, and the film keeps its resolution uncertain up until the last moment. 

What Doesn’t: The ending of The Adjustment Bureau resolves the conflict in a less satisfying way. The conclusion evades some of the hard choices that Damon and Blunt’s characters ought to have faced and gives them a pass. The resolution is a bit of a disappointment because it is inconsistent with the dilemmas that the film builds most of its story around. But the filmmaker’s decision to end the film the way that it does has other implications that are equally interesting.  

Bottom Line: The Adjustment Bureau is an ambitious , entertaining, and successful film that mixes philosophical inquiry with solid storytelling. Beyond what might have otherwise been just a date movie, this is a film with something to say about life, love, and our ability for self determination.

Episode: #330 (March 13, 2011)