And 4 More Things We Learned From Director George Nolfi
One of the sleeper surprises of the spring was George Nolfi‘s “The Adjustment Bureau.” A unique concoction of sci-fi and romance, and based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the film stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt as a politician and a ballerina who are caught up in a game of cat-and-mouse when they discover that the world they know is not quite what it seems and is controlled by a mysterious group who pull the strings behind the scenes. Determined to fight for their love rather than be pulled apart by the forces that control their destinies, the two go on the run to try and right a universe that has them programmed to never spend another moment together. A tough sell right? Well, as usual, Hollywood underestimated that adults are also looking for entertainment and the film pulled in over $120 million worldwide, earning solid reviews and good word-of-mouth along the way.
With the film arriving on DVD and BluRay today — and if you missed it, here’s your chance to catch up — we got a chance to speak with George Nolfi about the film and he told us about some of the deleted scenes you’ll see on the disc, how his academic background drew him to the material and the surprising influence that classic screwball comedies had on the film.
1. Daniel Dae Kim’s Comedic Character Was Cut From The Film, But Lives On In The Deleted Scenes
Earlier in the year, Nolfi revealed that he had shot a scene in which the elusive, mysterious Chairman in the film was revealed but opted not to include it in the final cut. He reiterated the point to us saying, “It was unequivocal to me once I started filming, much less once I cut it in, that showing the chairman was not the way to go.” However, that wasn’t the only scene to get axed.
As it turns out, “The Adjustment Bureau” — which already has a nice undercurrent of humor — was even funnier, but Nolfi decided to dial it back and in the process cut one recognizable actor from the film (though he lives on in the deleted scenes). “I did have a character that was a little more comedic in ‘The Adjustment Bureau.’ A little more sort of blackly humorous [because] the bureaucracy has all kinds of faults and flaws itself, and that character was played by Daniel Dae Kim of ‘Lost‘ fame and now ‘Hawaii Five-0,’ ” Nolfi told us. “He did a great job — just two scenes — and they’re in there so people can see what it would have looked like if we had gone that direction. I ultimately decided that the Bureau needed to be a little more dark or it would risk being silly. It’s already such a difficult concept to kind of sell in a realistic way, so that’s why it’s out.”
And that’s not all, as Nolfi goes on to explain that the world of the film opens up even more in additional deleted scenes and extra footage. “There’s more dialogue from Thompson [played by Terence Stamp] kind of explaining the way history has been influenced by the Adjustment Bureau, things like that. The [theatrical] cut works for what the movie should be, but people who really like the movie and want to understand more of the lore around it, and have a greater sense of what the Bureau is, can find those deleted scenes interesting, I think.”
2. The Release Date Shifts Were Mostly Due To Matt Damon’s Demanding Schedule
It took a while for “The Adjustment Bureau” to finally reach theaters. Originally slated for a July 30, 2010 release date, it was shifted to September 17, 2010 before landing on March 4th of this year. And while there is certainly a track record of films that have been moved around turning out to be duds, in this case, it was something as boring as Matt Damon’s busy schedule being the culprit for the production being delayed, as it waited for the actor to clear some room on his calendar.
“It’s the first time I had directed so I didn’t have enough experience to play through all the release date stuff so I put myself in the hands of the studio on that one. The first date we had…physically, I wasn’t able to complete the additional photography and then do the visual effects work on it. It was an ambitious date, but given that Matt had very long hair working on ‘True Grit‘ we had to wait for ‘True Grit’ to completely finish before we could go back and do any of our extra shooting,” Nolfi explained. “And then the second one was just problematic [because] Matt had other movies coming out at that time. But, I dunno, it seems to have worked out fine [laughs]. Maybe next time I’ll be more worried.”
3. Screwball Comedies Of The ’30s & ’40s Were An Influence On The Romance In The Film
One of the biggest surprises of “The Adjustment Bureau” is the deeply felt and classically structured romance between Damon and Blunt. The film requires the audience to believe that Damon’s character falls in love with Blunt literally at first sight, and not only does the actor and script sell it, but the chemistry between the two leads helps make their plight to fight for their love entirely believable. And for Nolfi, he found the inspiration he needed for some of those scenes in an unlikely place.
“For the bathroom scene and the bus scene, I definitely thought about screwball comedies — starting in the ’30s and ’40s, they bled a little into the ’50s — where a woman is in a domain that’s not her own but she’s completely confident in it, and it throws the guy off guard,” Nolfi said. “It’s hard to do a screwball comedy now because there aren’t many domains that are exclusively male, but the men’s room is one of them [laughs]. My touchstone for the romance, as well as everything else in the film, was to try to do it in as authentic or realistic a way as possible.”
“And that’s part of what I think also makes it not feel very much like a sci-fi movie. Obviously there’s not a lot of gear, there are a lot of other things that aren’t particularly sci-fi but the fact that it’s told in such a “this-is-just-our-everyday-reality” kind of way makes it sci-fi tinged, not really a sci-fi movie,” he added about his approach to blending genres. It certainly works very well, and you can see evidence of Damon and Blunt’s charm in the clip below:
4. George Nolfi’s Academic Background In Philosophy Helped Connect Him With The Material
Believe it or not, in addition to writing “Ocean’s Twelve” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” Nolfi is a bit of an academic — in philosophy of all things — and it was that background that helped spur his interesting doing the film.
“The short story was pitched to me by my producing partner Michael Hackett and I thought, what a fantastically interesting conceit. The notion of fate being a group of people who are around us all the time kind of gently nudging us one way or another. I have a long standing interest in issues of free will and determinism; I was working on a doctorate in philosophy so that was interesting to me right off the bat,” Nolfi told us. “And he actually suggested what about doing it as a love story — fate is trying to stop him from being with the only woman he’s ever loved — and I just thought, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
And while Nolfi didn’t have to struggle to get the film made thanks to the backing of Matt Damon on the project, he realizes now how lucky he was to get such a high concept film off the ground at all. “I was probably naive in hindsight as almost everything that gets made — not just from first time directors, but period — is something that fits neatly into a genre box,” Nofli noted. “In general the only people who can break out of that are either very low budget indie films, or very established directors. So, I feel incredibly lucky that Matt was so supportive and MRC and Universal [let] me do something so unusual. I love genre movies that are done in an elevated way and I hope to keep doing things that are a little bit different than what you expect.”
5. New York Was The Ideal Setting For ‘The Adjustment Bureau’
With Woody Allen in Europe, Martin Scorsese chasing 3D and Spike Lee still without a feature length film on the horizon, New York City’s longtime directors have been away from their muse for a while. But no other film so far this year was as defined by New York City than “The Adjustment Bureau.” With key scenes shot in places like Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty, there was a very concerted effort to shoot in the city and Nolfi told us why.
“When I started conceiving of what the Adjustment Bureau would be like — and thinking about a hierarchical structure, because when you talk about fate, it has to work for some form of higher power — I kind of liked the idea of presenting it as a corporate hierarchy,” Nolfi told us about his approach to the setting. “Because then it can also symbolically comment on other power structures. When I went and did interviews on the film in Germany, I got all these questions: ‘Is this a metaphor for the totalitarian state?’ [Laughs] It’s just different depending on who’s watching it. But New York seemed like the place for that, it’s sort of the epicenter for that corporate power.”
“The Adjustment Bureau” is on DVD and BluRay today.