by Ryan Hill
In “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, playing caricatures of themselves, talk about having to do safe pictures in order to do art pictures, and every now and then doing the payback picture because your friend says you owe them. “The Adjustment Bureau” is, without a doubt, a payback picture.
Written and directed by George Nolfi, a co-writer of Damon vehicles “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” Damon clearly has had plenty of time to get friendly with the first-time director. Top that off with the fact that “Bureau” was pushed back from its August, 2010, release date due to plot issues and you have the ingredients for a disaster of a movie.
Damon plays David Norris, a New York Senatorial candidate who meets Elise (Emily Blunt) just before making his concession speech. They banter back and forth, clearly flirting before finally locking lips. Energized by this chance encounter, David makes a concession speech that should propel him to victory in the next election. All of this went according to plan – The Adjustment Bureau’s plan.
The Adjustment Bureau is comprised of a group of monotone gentlemen who dress like they belong in an episode of “Mad Men.” The Bureau makes sure everything in life happens according to the plans of the Chairman who, for all intents and purposes, is God.
Problem is, the next day David runs into Elise again on a bus, which was not supposed to happen. The Adjustment Bureau kidnaps David and warns him that all of his dreams will fall apart if he chases after Elise.
Three years later, David, who still rides that same bus in hopes of seeing Elise again, finally catches sight of her, and the Bureau springs back into action trying to keep the star-crossed couple apart.
One of the biggest problems with “The Adjustment Bureau” is that the adjustors never really spell out why David and Elise aren’t supposed to be together, other than it’s simply not in the plan. But if the plans are otherwise fluid and can change, why can’t this one? Not to mention, would a single guy who just happens to look like Matt Damon really pine for a girl for three years and not see any women in the meantime?
Damon has his charm on full-throttle, and his scenes with Blunt are by far the best moments of the film, but his buddy Nolfi clearly struggles with what kind of movie “The Adjustment Bureau,” based on a Philip K. Dick short story, is supposed to be. Is it a romance? A science fiction film? A thriller? The film flip-flops between the three, and with Thomas Newman’s distractingly upbeat score playing throughout, everything feels too cheery and sappy for any of the three genres to firmly take root.
Amazingly enough, “The Adjustment Bureau” isn’t a terrible movie. Is it problematic? Absolutely. But the dazzling chemistry between Damon and Blunt, at least on the occasions that don’t make one question David’s sanity, prove that, with a bit more of an adjustment, “The Adjustment Bureau” could’ve turned out according to plan – as a good movie.