The Adjustment Bureau is not a bad film, more like a dispiritingly mediocre one. It has its pleasures as a Spring popcorn movie. Emily Blunt and Matt Damon are always enjoyable to watch. It gives us time to spend with Terence Stamp for the first time in what seems like years. It is blithely and unrepentingly optimistic about the human spirit and self-determination during a time where the world around us feels scary and unstable.
The biggest flaw of The Adjustment Bureau may be that its negatives are so easily articulable. An inconsistent tone and choppy editing, a tendency to tell rather than show, and an allergic resistance to parceling out specifics about its premise that ends up making it feel more mushy than mysterious.
Damon plays David Norris a hotshot, young politician whose rise to fame may or may not be the work of the titular shadow agency working on behalf of a master plan chartered by the not-so-mysteriously named “Chairman.” When one of the bureau either rebels or makes a mistake, Norris becomes aware of their existence and must decide whether or not to heed their warning to never again see the beautiful dancer who has enraptured him (Blunt as Elise Sellas).
There is a lot of set up here, but disappointingly (especially for a film with such cosmological themes) all the set up really amounts to is a context for several chase scenes, none of which are particularly exciting or interesting. It doesn’t help, either, that the film’s insistence in holding on to some shred of ambiguity about the identity and moral nature of the bureau means you never really know exactly what is at stake in any of these chases nor whether you should be rooting for them to succeed or not. Only after the events have transpired does a character give a speech explaining what the human actions and choices meant; in the best films that process should be reversed so that the action reveals character rather than vice-versa.
All that being said, Damon is just so damn charming and Blunt so interesting to watch that The Adjustment Bureau is easy enough to enjoy once you surrender any expectations of depth or meaning.
One small note technical note. The first two scenes between Blunt and Damon had so many close ups and cross cuts, that I almost felt like they were supposed to be visual clues of changes in reality or something. I’m still not quite sure whether this was an easy way to use stand-ins, the room was too small for more than one camera, or the director was just restless. Be that as it may, it’s been a long time since the editing in a movie of this budget was this distracting, taking me out of the story and making me notice the construction. But there I go again, conflating what’s good for film school with what’s good for the weekend matinee.
Have fun. Enjoy. Just don’t think too hard or set your expectations too high.