The Adjustment Bureau
The filmmakers of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU had their work cut out for them when it came to bringing Philip K. Dick’s short story ‘Adjustment Team’ to the big screen. In order for it to work, the audience has to buy into two very specific ideas. First, the audience has to accept that in this world, there is an agency of sorts that controls the lives of every human in the world (called ‘the adjustment bureau’). This is no easy feat as science fiction concepts like this can easily get lost on people and if you’re not consistent with the rules of the world you’ve created, your film can go south in a hurry. But once that’s out of the way, the filmmakers then have to convince the audience that their two lead characters are madly in love. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes harder to convince an audience two people are in love than it is to convince them there’s a secret society that is controlling their thoughts.
But that love story is actually where THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU shines. Granted, I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic and romance stories with an epic backdrop always get to me, but Bureau does a surprisingly great job of bringing these two together. As with any truly great romantic film, there has to be something that keeps our lovers apart while the audience roots for them to get together. In this case, the secret society doesn’t want young politician David (Matt Damon) and Elise (Emily Blunt) to be married because their “plan” has them going in different directions. But despite their efforts, they seem to always end up together by “chance”.
I can’t stress enough how important it was for the filmmakers to convince us that David and Elise belonged together and they only had a few short interactions to make that happen. That’s where I have to give credit to director/screenwriter George Nolfi for writing dialogue that was both intimate and conversational so the audience could connect to the lovers very quickly, despite not spending much time with them together. I liken some of their exchanges to the diner scene early on in MEET JOE BLACK between Brad Pitt and Claire Forlani; even though the movie let us down afterwards, we got attached to them quickly because of the great dialogue exchange. But great dialogue is nothing without actors that can pull it off and both Damon and Blunt did a wonderful job convincing us that they were in love and in real danger from the bureau. Damon has become a pro at portraying the ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances and Blunt showed us that she can handle being a leading lady.
As for the science fiction element of the story, that was actually an easier sell for the filmmakers. If you found out today that there was a secret society running the world, you’d have a million questions, so the filmmakers had to pick and choose their battles. They did a nice job of establishing some basic ideas, telling the audience what they needed to know and then leaving the rest of it unanswered. I never wanted to meet the chairman and if anything, I felt like I learned too much about the adjustment bureau. I know some fans will want more of the conspiracy, but I was more focused on the love between David and Elise and all we really needed to know was that there was a secret society keeping them apart.
But nothing about the film matters if you don’t accept the world the characters are living in or that they truly love each other. I think THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU will have a hard time winning over general audiences, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and had no problem buying into the world they created. Bureau is a fine film that does a nice job of combining an enchanting love story with an interesting conspiracy/sci-fi concept.