The Adjustment Bureau Review

Matt Damon is on the run again – this time from Fate itself – in George Nolfi’s mystery thriller.

Remember Sliding Doors, that Gwyneth Paltrow film? The one where we see her life go down two separate paths after she just catches/misses a tube train? That idea of a life-changing moment hanging on the smallest of coincidences is given a paranoiac spin in The Adjustment Bureau, a genuinely delightful adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story. Like last month’s Never Let Me Go, The Adjustment Bureau is a sci-fi tinged tale for people who wouldn’t normally touch sci-fi with an intergalactic barge pole. In fact it is equal parts metaphysical science-fiction, romantic drama and Hitchcockian suspense thriller, and somehow manages to juggle all three genres successfully, delivering what is surely a candidate for the perfect date movie.

It might sound heavy-going – any film that ponders the true nature of destiny and free will risks falling in to the twin traps of tedium and pretension – but George Nolfi’s directorial debut is anything but. Nolfi co-wrote The Bourne Ultimatum, and Bourne star Matt Damon returns here as David Norris, a New York Congressman running for the Senate who fails in his bid after a tabloid paper runs a compromising photograph of him. While preparing a speech he stumbles across Elise (Emily Blunt), a bright and attractive young woman with whom he feels an instantaneous connection, and they briefly kiss. She leaves, but not before he is smitten. Bumping in to her again a few weeks later on a bus, their mutual feelings quickly become apparent. But it turns out the relationship is not to be – because fate, and the forces it employs, has decreed they should not become an item. These forces reveal themselves to Norris, making it explicitly clear that he should not try to contact her again; but Norris is unable to stop himself.

At first glance it all seems a bit daft – mysterious men working for an unseen higher power ensuring people’s lives follow their planned course? Not only that, but these agents of fate run around with Hogwarts-style maps indicating people’s paths and wear special hats that allow them to use doors that open in to different parts of the city miles away. Er, right. It might be suitable material for an episode of The Twilight Zone, but surely it’s too implausible for a mainstream Hollywood production?

But Nolfi keeps implausibility at bay by resolutely centring on David and Elise. The entire story hinges on their budding relationship and the immediate attraction they feel for each other. The reason for their attraction is dealt with later on, but without a credible chemistry between the two leads, the film is dead in the water. Fortunately Damon and Blunt have it in spades, and you can’t help but root for them. Damon in particular has rarely (if ever) been better than he is here, putting Jason Bourne firmly out of mind with a well-judged, sympathetic performance. The scenes where he and Blunt’s character fall in love are as funny and electric as you could wish, a complete surprise for an ostensibly fantastical movie. Blunt too is appealing, exuding a playfulness and wit she has rarely been called upon to display in past roles. Anthony Mackie is excellent as the agent who may or may not be David’s ally, and the fearsome Terence Stamp turns up as a formidable enforcer.

When the inevitable confrontation comes, with Norris and Elise on the run across the city, the film shifts up a gear and falls in to a more conventional pattern, though it’s no less entertaining for it. Those hoping for detailed explanations may come away disappointed, but for such an outlandish idea, it is perhaps best that much is left shrouded in secrecy. Like the very best episodes of The Twilight Zone, it is the mystery that gives the story its power. You’ll be looking at hat-wearing men with suspicion for weeks to come.

Gavin Midgley

Updated: Mar 15, 2011

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