Although The Adjustment Bureau is a solid piece of science fiction, it never scales the heights of some of the other story-to-film conversions of author Philip K. Dick’s work. It does succeed in having engaging characters, however, giving it an advantage over the other recent, much higher profile but ultimately dull, reality-bending film Inception.
David Norris (Matt Damon) is a New York Congressman who is running for Senator – as the youngest man in the field by quite a margin he is expected to win easily, but a moment of youthful exuberance spells the end of his hopes. When he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a woman who utterly captivates him and changes his outlook and motivations in an instant, powerful forces begin to mobilise behind the scenes to ensure their favoured candidate stays the course.
The Adjustment Bureau favours the modern style of not over-explaining itself, and eventually ends without ever truly declaring the nature or interests of the shadowy characters whom Norris and Elise must deal with. This gives the film a sense of intangible threat, but also makes it less likely to captivate its audience: at times the lack of information borders on the frustrating, and audiences might frequently wonder why they should care about the plight of the lead characters when they just don’t know what that plight is.
It is only the performances of Damon and Blunt that allow the audience to find their way into the story, and it is a strength of the film that one can’t imagine anyone else playing these roles. The aforementioned Inception has won widespread acclaim, and yet next-to-no time is spent giving the audience a reason to care about the characters: if they fail to engage with the labyrinthine plot, there is nothing at all for them to grasp a hold of. Christopher Nolan’s film is a stunning piece of exposition, but it is hard to know whether fans will love it in coming years in the way the best sci-fi films demand. The Adjustment Bureau will similarly fail to live forever, but at least if the elusive plot fails to enthrall the characters might.
While one could be forgiven for expecting a conspiracy thriller after viewing the marketing material for the film, The Adjustment Bureau is more of a slow-burner than that, meaning some of its audience might be disappointed they didn’t get what they were expecting. Nonetheless, there is value in the quiet and measured approach taken by writer / director George Nolfi, and rewards for those patient enough to enjoy them. Although not a shining example of the genre, there is enough here for fans to enjoy to make this a worthwhile addition to the Philip K.Dick oeuvre.Rating: