Several people asked me over the past few weeks what “The Adjustment Bureau”, the Matt Damon vehicle directed by “Bourne Ultimatum” director George Nolfi, is supposed to be about. Sadly, the best way to describe it so everyone could understand was to tell them, “You know, it’s a little ‘Inception’-y.”
“The Adjustment Bureau”, with its morose grey tones, quick-paced chase scenes and pseudo-spiritual focus, is doomed to be compared with “Inception”, though the plot actually has little in common with last year’s Christopher Nolan extravaganza. Instead of pudgy, defeated Leo DiCaprio, we have Matt Damon as David, a chipper, up-and-coming politician, who stumbles onto the knowledge that his entire life has been engineered by a group of men who claim to work for someone called “The Chairman”. They alert him that his “Plan” entails that he not hook up with a feisty ballerina (the wonderful Emily Blunt) which would derail him from his career.
Written and Directed By: George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, John Slattery, Emily Blunt
From the get-go, it’s made clear who/what The Chairman is, as well as his workers. These are bureaucrats from the Other Side, who fascinatingly seem to have the same type of business hierarchy as a large government office and are very fond of snappy fedora hats. It’s a strange, slightly silly conceit, but perhaps that’s what makes it brilliant. (It also gives an excuse to quote perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious line of the year: “The most important thing to remember is that everyone wearing a hat is a threat.”)
Nolfi is smart not pretending that his story isn’t a little silly, and a little on-the-nose. Rather he embraces it, so the chase scenes with Damon being followed by ten men in $600 suits and fedoras duels between being charming and actually a little frightening. Nolfi isn’t afraid of fun- something Christopher Nolan could maybe take a lesson from.
Damon and Blunt display some of the best chemistry on-screen that I have seen in a long time. Though their relationship is based on only three chance meetings, their slow-burning yet jovial banter makes it seems credible that they would be willing to take on God to keep it intact. John Slattery (who for the rest of my life I will always call Roger Sterling) is also terrific as a cosmic middle manager. And as David’s “case worker”, Anthony Mackie takes what could be a small, exposition-heavy character, and turns him into a melancholy, disillusioned soul with every turn of phrase.
Nolfi may not be afraid of fun, but he seems terrified of his audience not getting his concept. His script explains far too much. He doesn’t trust his cast members, many of whom are excellent non-verbal actors, to tell the story for him. More insultingly, he doesn’t trust his audience to “get” who The Chairman is, and why The Plan is so important. And worst of all, the focus group-approved ending kills the lovely spontaneous and slightly madcap quality of the rest of the movie. It’s only good sense, or sheer luck, that gave him a cast that work their butts off to elevate the average writing.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that “The Adjustment Bureau” has much more in common with the “Bourne” films than “Inception”. The movies are about Matt Damon being chased- The Chairman is just the guy who’s chasing him. It’s silly and over-the-top- and altogether not a bad way to spend the weekend.