Paisano at the movies: The Adjustment Bureau

“The Adjustment Bureau” is a romance thriller with science fiction elements. When David Norris (Matt Damon), an ambitious politician, loses the greatest election of his career, he inadvertently stumbles across a charismatic ballet dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt). The two immediately fall in love but are quickly separated. Following this brief encounter, Norris is inspired to give a speech that captivates all of New York City making him a front runner for a future seat in the senate. When Norris attempts to re-establish his relationship with Elise, he diverges from his pre-established destiny and is quickly confronted by “The Adjustment Bureau.” This shadowy organization believes that Norris’ relationship with Elise will compromise his future. They are relentlessly determined to make sure that Norris will never be with Elise.

The film features a reliable cast although most of the characters are underdeveloped. Matt Damon’s politician is an easily likeable protagonist whose impulsive behavior often hinders his political lifestyle. His character Norris is a puppet that has finally been allowed to see who is pulling his strings. The Adjustment Bureau has shaped every aspect of his life and Norris reacts with indignation over his lack of control. His love at first sight encounter with Elise may be a little contrived but the couples on screen chemistry is what makes the film worthwhile. Emily Blunt is able to balance her character, Elise, with a rebellious nature and grace.  Her passionate relationship with Norris is integral to the heart of the film and their interpersonal dynamics are well executed in the film. 

The members of the Adjustment Bureau are not as fleshed out as the films leads. These architects of fate use their telekinetic powers to make and unmake reality. They are not necessarily bad guys, but they often use their otherworldly powers to frustrate Norris throughout the film. Their mission is to make sure that Norris follows his plan and reaches his full potential by any means necessary.  Anthony Mackie is serviceable as Norris’ primary follower Harry Mitchell. Mitchell’s main job in the movie is to fill the audience in on exposition that explains the sci-fi elements of the story. Terrence Stamp is also solid as Thompson, one of the meaner Adjustment Bureau members. Most of the other members are card board cut out villains without any defining traits. The film would have been better if it had more complex villains that audiences could root against.

The film features a strong first and second act but quickly falls apart at the conclusion. While the third act is not bad, it comes across as poorly thought out and sloppy. Plot devices like magic hats and inter-dimensional door knobs pull viewers out of the pseudo-realism that the rest of the film followed. The film also features way too much exposition to explain what’s going on. Rather than telling a story through the characters actions, it often falls upon Anthony Mackie’s character to explain the ridiculous logic it wants the viewer to believe. However, the film also features kinetic chase scenes and truly thought provoking material when it’s handled well.

Paisano rating score C+