Monday, March 28, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

A mostly satisfying film, The Adjustment Bureau (2011, directed by George Nolfi) is loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story. A couple meet and develop a relationship in defiance of a mysterious organization with incredible powers that tries to keep the couple apart.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star as David, a New York Congressman running for Senate, and Elise, a dancer. The “adjustment bureau” is composed of men with hats who adjust and edit reality to conform to a pattern set down by the Chairman. Where the film succeeds is as a romance. The first meet-cute scene in a men’s bathroom and the second meet-cute scene on a bus are both charming and engaging.

What is the Adjustment Bureau and who are the men in hats? The movie has trappings of science fiction, with doors that cross great distances and machines used to revise people’s thoughts and memories. It wants to be a fantasy, too, suggesting that the men in hats are angels. In the least subtle moment in the movie, one of the adjustment men pointedly looks up to Heaven when he refers to the Chairman. While there is some discussion of fate and free will, little light is shed on the subject.

The final chase scene is nicely done, with David and Elise using the special doors to skip across New York. Unfortunately, the powers of the adjustment men grow and diminish as needed by each plot point in the course of the story. The result is a sense that there is no coherent, underlying idea defining the goals of the Adjustment Bureau or the extent of their powers.

If you combined Wings of Desire (1987, directed by Wim Wenders) and Men in Black (1997, directed by Barry Sonnenfeld) and focused on a romantic couple, the result would be something like The Adjustment Bureau. My advice is to watch the brilliant Wings of Desire, which is vastly superior to either of the other films.

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