The Adjustment Bureau, an adaptation of a 1950s short story by Philip K Dick, is a rather welcome surprise. Although it deals with a story that could have been pretentiously portentous (yes, Inception, I mean you) and self-indulgently nerdy, somehow it manages to escape this and give its audience a fun, coherent and thrilling story with two very likable leads. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is a big plus.
Matt Damon plays David Norris, a congressman running for the New York senate. He seems to have won everybody’s hearts and minds, and for a time it looks as if voting night might be the best night of his life so far. But an embarrassing photograph from his younger years causes his public to lose confidence, so on the night of truth he goes into the gents to rehearse an admittance-of-defeat speech. But this is where it all changes. A young, beautiful woman called Elsie (Emily Blunt) is hiding from security in one of the cubicles (she’s crashed a wedding in one of the building’s function rooms, apparently), and seconds later they are embracing passionately. Why? They have only just met. Why would he feel so strongly about a woman who has simply dropped into his life accidentally? Is it due to chance? Or because he is destined to?…..
If I give straight answers to these questions a lot of the fun of what follows will be ruined. What I can say is this: there is a team of people who monitor the world and make sure things go according to plan. They map out people’s fate, they can influence people’s thoughts – at one point in the film there’s a rather explicit implication that they are angels and the master they serve is….well, take your pick. God/Allah/Aslan….many names would suit. The man in charge of one particular division of ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ (played with playful humour by Mad Men’s John Slattery) is determined to make sure David and Elsie do not end up falling in love. It isn’t part of his master’s plan, and he won’t let chance throw them together. However, one of his team, an angel with a conscience and an understanding of human emotion, has different ideas and agrees to help David understand what will happen if he goes against his destiny.
Matt Damon and Emily Blunt strike up a chemistry so believable you’re rooting for them from their first accidental meeting. This may sound trivial, but there are many action thrillers that forget to inject their romantically-entwined leads with a sufficient degree of likability. What’s also nice is that, although there is a lot of running through the streets of Manhattan, the whole island is never put at threat or blown up. This story is personal, and sticks to its subjects: David and Elsie. Emily Blunt, who keeps her lovely English accent, is always wonderful, but here she really cements her standing in the list of reliable blockbuster leads. True, she is second to Damon’s central character, but this is her most high-profile role since The Young Victoria (if one omits her limp turn in The Wolfman), and proves that she can really act and run very fast whilst staying jaw-droppingly beautiful. Although I’m sure some could see an advanced philosophical message in this story of fate and destiny, I think it’s more likely to be cherished by the majority for the warm and beautifully honest love story that is at its core. It is not a masterpiece, and Bourne fans may crave some action of a more gritty nature, but I doubt there will be a more winning and lovable screen coupling this year.
Good: Enjoyment levels are sky-high, plus this gives Blunt a chance to shine
Bad: It doesn’t live up to the quote plastered onto the posters: “Bourne meets Inception”. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.