Matt Damon has certainly earned our respect as an action hero in the series of Bourne films, combining intelligence and athleticism into one complex character. And his performance in The Adjustment Bureau as US Senator-to-be David Norris is no exception. The film ought to be the perfect vehicle for allowing the acclaimed actor to play to his strengths. Apart from teaming up with the stunning and talented Emily Blunt, the added appeal is the possibility of an intelligent sci-fi thriller full of deception and tangled lies, with the tantalising tagline of: “They stole his future. Now he’s taking it back”. It sounds like this year’s contender for an Inception-style film of destiny-altering events, acted out by a stellar cast – as with the 2010 hit.
Writer/director George Nolfi’s vision starts out according to plan, combining political intrigue with the suggestion of a greater power at play, and there is a galvanising ‘pause’ in the plot that kick-starts events into motion. The Adjustment Bureau also mixes an intoxicating retro charm with a contemporary urban vitality, pointing to influences from early 50s and 60s thrillers in their heyday. It also boasts an equally ‘wow-factor-making’ cast of 60s-set Mad Men’s John Slattery and iconic Superman villain Terence Stamp. And the plot that begins with a full head of steam and scintillating mystery gives nods to previous sci-fi thrillers’ ideas – including those in J.J. Abrams‘s Fringe, as well as The Matrix, while keeping you in the dark about its own eventual plan.
However, unlike the Oscar-winning Inception that had the full imagination of Nolan behind it, Nolfi’s offering, rather disappointingly, loses its puff with an abrupt and deflating ending. Ironically, it wants to champion the conundrum of free will verses fate throughout, introducing us to some potentially meaty characters in Norris and his love interest, dancer Elise Sellas (Blunt) who are both determined and assertive. But it seems to break down their spirit, turning Blunt’s character into a wretched, clichéd, former shell of herself, and Norris into Bourne on a rooftop, rather than trying anything different.
Possibly, the issue is The Adjustment Bureau is more of a ‘futuristic romance’, than a cerebral sci-fi puzzle of The Matrix proportions. Nolfi’s intent may well be to deceive us into thinking otherwise. But with all its happenings, our curious side needs greater appeasement, especially when the 60s-dressed Bureau men in Trilby hats whose job it is to keep every human on their chosen path in life each carry a ‘plan book’ that looks like a complex wiring schedule or Tube map, as well as go around threatening the brainwashing of any ‘stray human’ that learns the truth behind the bigger picture.
There is the undeniably inviting supernatural and biblical element to the film, almost Wings of Desire in stance, as a disgruntled Bureau worker or ‘angel’ called Harry (Anthony Mackie) gets tired of his boss, ‘The Chairman’s plan, and seeks to help the fated couple achieve free will by rewriting the rule book. Indeed, you could argue what conceivable conclusion could Nolfi give, lest to suggest that ‘The Chairman’ or God, has a heart of stone, and cynically doesn’t believe in love or his own creation, Man. That said this is still suggested, with no chance for the boss upstairs to defend such an accusation. Perhaps, we have been spoilt with the momentous, fire-and-brimstone Pacino-Reeves showdown in The Devil’s Advocate that we need some visual comeback? It just doesn’t seem to sit comfortably, and smacks of Nolfi running out of ideas – or budget.
There are many more strands that just don’t get addressed, let alone taken further in The Adjustment Bureau that make the whole affair a tad frustrating, to say the least. Being mesmerised by the film’s technical beauty is just not enough. It’s as though Nolfi is testing the water and holding his cards close to his chest to see if a sequel is possible, but one that may not come for him to develop his ideas further. Like any film with biblical references, The Adjustment Bureau is sure to spark a debate, long after the hats come off – and if nothing else, the topic of the coolness of Trilbys fuelled by Mad Men, in particular, will keep some entertained afterwards.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie
(Follow Lisa on Twitter: @FilmGazer)