When I saw the trailer for The Adjustment Bureau, I saw similarities to two other rather different movies and I wondered which one was closer. With mysterious men-in-hats who secretly manipulate the world, is it going to be a mind-bending proto-film-noir like Dark City? Or when boy meets girl and they are kept apart by forces beyond the natural order, will it be more of a sci-fi-tinged romance like The Time Traveller’s Wife? Unfortunately, this movie paled in comparison to both of its predecessors.
Matt Damon plays David Norris, a hotshot young politician with a shining future until some reckless antics cause him to lose an election. Before his concession, he meets Emily Blunt’s character Elise, whose charm and vivacity not only inspire Norris to scrap his speech, but clearly win his heart. Some time passes, and David has not stopped thinking about Elise, and one day he runs into her again on the bus and they rekindle their connection. Meanwhile, we are privy to the machinations of some men in natty suits and nice hats who are apparently observing the behaviour of the couple. According to them, David was supposed to have spilled his coffee on himself, which would have caused him to skip the bus and his reunion with the girl of his dreams. That single missed event starts to send ripples through reality and David winds up arriving at his office early where he finds everyone frozen in time while mysterious men are doing something to his immobile colleagues. After these mysterious men capture David, they reveal to him their true nature — they alter the world in small and large ways to ensure that humanity doesn’t deviate from The Plan.
Ironically, without the laughable science fiction overlay, this could have been an enjoyable, normal, romantic drama. Blunt displays an easy flirtatiousness so attractive that I defy any man not to see her as the perfect girlfriend. Plus her chemistry with Damon is warm and comfortable and their banter delightfully playful without being cloying. Sadly, before long those men-in-hats show up again, led by the dapper John Slattery (from TV’s Mad Men), to keep them apart. Apparently these men can freeze time and alter someone’s thinking, travel anywhere by merely opening the right door and stepping through, but when they’re chasing David, their tactics are reduced to tripping him (with their minds), preventing him from making outgoing calls or hailing taxi cabs. It’s ridiculous how they can’t deduce that the more they try to prevent David from being with Elise the harder he tries. Plus, they never explain why they can’t just alter his thinking not to be in love with her. This is such bad sci-fi that the plot holes just get bigger and bigger as they start to explain the rules behind these angels-in-fedoras, e.g. rain and other concentrations of water prevent their telepathic senses, and (my personal favourite) they can only use their powers of teleporting through doorways if they’re wearing their hats! There are so many little contrivances that they just scream “plot device”!
By the end, not only was I annoyed with Damon’s David, I actually started to turn against him. When he argued with Elise, I was hoping that they wouldn’t get together. I wanted the men-in-hats to win. With all the talk of supernatural forces keeping the lovers apart, I felt the need to resist an even stronger force: the force of a cliche and obvious story arc making sure that they would end up together. Nevertheless, the lame script has made me curious about the Philip K. Dick source material. I wonder how much of it came from the original short story, and how much of the belaboured plot came from the mind of writer-director George Nolfi. For all its talk of free will, this movie seemed to have its path predictably laid out the whole time (despite attempts to make it appear otherwise) (3 out of 5).
Sidebar: I saw the movie at one of the new Cineplex Ultra AVX theatres which boast a wall-to-wall screen, digital projection, high-quality surround sound, and comfortable reclining seats (which you can actually reserve). The screen is nice and big and the digital picture makes sure that everything is really crisp and clear (even at that size). The sound was a bit bass-heavy (in fact, I could feel the vibrations actually ruffling my pant legs like a breeze) and the seat (while comfortable) tended to spring back from the reclining position too eagerly so I needed to sit a certain way to enjoy it. I chose a seat at a good distance from the screen, but the reservation made little difference since I arrived early and there were probably fewer than 30 people at my showing. It’s a step in the right direction from Cineplex, but I don’t think I would have gone for it if I didn’t get the ticket for free by redeeming my Scene loyalty points. Nevertheless, I’ll probably try the Ultra AVX again if the price is right.