I’m a sucker for movies about fate, destiny, and heavenly intervention—going all the way back to On Borrowed Time and Here Comes Mr. Jordan up through Ghost Town with Ricky Gervais—so I was more than willing to accept the premise of The Adjustment Bureau, based on Philip K. Dick’s short story. In this case, the buttoned-down business types played by Anthony Mackie and John Slattery are here on earth to make sure things go “according to plan.” So when hotshot politician Matt Damon chances to meet Emily Blunt and falls in love at first sight, they’re forced to—
—step in. This wasn’t supposed to happen, and they have to set things straight.
That such an outlandish idea works against a realistic backdrop—the world of politics and business in New York City, peopled by an impressive number of real-life personalities and pundits—is a credit to director George Nolfi (who also wrote the screenplay) and his stars. Damon and Blunt are both likable and believable; they give us rooting interest, and that’s essential in a highly fanciful story.
Nolfi and his colleagues make especially good use of New York, filming everywhere from the Brooklyn waterfront to the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art. It’s a fresh look at a familiar city.
But Nolfi drops the ball in the home stretch, and that’s a shame. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I stopped believing the story, but by the climax—and certainly by the underwhelming finale—I was no longer engaged. Damon and Blunt play it for all it’s worth, and Mackie, who has a commanding presence, does his best to keep a straight face during the elaborate and increasingly outlandish buildup to the final scene, but it’s all for naught.
I would still recommend the film to incurable romantics, or fans of the leading actors. The Adjustment Bureau is a stylish, well-crafted film; I just wish it had the dramatic impact it aspires to convey.