David Norris (Matt Damon) is a young go-getter New York politician who has a chance encounter with the quirky, engaging Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a ballerina who captures his attention immediately. Strange forces are at work and Norris is assaulted and wakes up in a warehouse, surrounded by mysterious dark-suited men in fedoras. Their leader is Richardson ( John Slattery), who explains to Norris that there’s a Plan, as mapped in their constantly changing notebooks. He cannot be with Elise in the Plan.
The Adjustment Bureau transforms into an action film once the watchers show up, and while fate keeps causing Norris to bump into Sellas, it becomes clear that if he’s going to try to exercise free will and pursue her, he’s going to do so at the risk of the Bureau wiping his memories. Watcher Harry (Anthony Mackie) sympathizes with Norris and helps him learn what’s going on and how to wrest back control of his own fate.
There’s a retro feel to The Adjustment Bureau that has just as much to do with the cinematography as set design and the Mad Men-esque costumes of the mysterious Bureau. At times I wished that they’d filmed it all in black and white. Contemporary Manhattan and the outer boroughs have a timelessness to them that is mirrored in our gradual understanding of just who the watchers are and what The Plan is.
In a subtle but provocative moment, Norris responds to Harry’s assurance that the Bureau wasn’t responsible for the death of his mother by asking if it was just random chance. Harry declines to answer, one of the few glimpses of an even deeper good vs. evil story underneath the romantic chase film that made it to the big screen.
Damon has made a career out of specializing in the “strong, quiet type,” from his splendid work in the Bourne trilogy to Good Will Hunting, The Brothers Grimm and Invictus. He is similarly bland in this film, but it’s more than offset by Blunt’s nuanced performance. She has the anger, the hurt, the passion of an artist who is thrown into a situation she doesn’t understand with a man who simultaneously confesses his love for her and pushes her away.
When Norris goes too far off plan in his pursuit of Sellas, the Bureau calls in the fixer, Thompson (Terence Stamp), who exudes a dangerous level of control, warning Norris that the consequences for his pursuit are great, both for him and for Sellas. Given the spiritual role of the Bureau, Thompson’s presence again invokes the same subtle question of good versus evil and the consequences of invoking evil for good intention.
Ultimately, The Adjustment Bureau is a delightfully paranoid love story with a retro sci-fi spin, a film that has a polished, sophisticated feel and that will also appeal to non-sci-fi fans. It’s also George Nolfi’s first directorial outing. Well done! I enjoyed the movie and recommend you check it out.