Blu-Ray Review: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt in ‘The Adjustment Bureau’

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CHICAGO – “The Adjustment Bureau” was a surprising success in a season full of them (“Hanna,” “Source Code,” “Win Win,” more), earning strong reviews and breaking $100 million worldwide. That may not seem like a blockbuster for Matt Damon but when one considers that this is an existential, sci-fi, noir, romantic action movie, it doesn’t exactly scream obvious financial success. And it’s the kind of film that I suspect will grow in esteem over the years as its fans share it with their friends. A great Blu-ray release with excellent supplemental material doesn’t hurt. Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.5/5.0

This unusual hybrid of genres from debut director George Nolfi (a notable writer for years taking his first time behind the lens) is a nearly-great film. It’s mesmerizing at times, especially in the very-strong first two acts. Nolfi and his team kind of fumble a bit near the end, holding it back from its true potential, but this is definitely worth a rental and even a purchase for fans of the material.

The Adjustment Bureau
The Adjustment Bureau
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

The ambition of the stylistic melting pot is certainly notable, but the best thing about “The Adjustment Bureau” is that the chemistry between its two gorgeous leads is simply spectacular. From the very minute that Matt Damon and Emily Blunt lock eyes in one of the best romantic meeting scenes in movie history, the concept that they have been fated to find each other and that their love can overcome any obstacle is set in stone. You simply believe it. And believing their love is fated is key to the success of the film. There’s not one moment where their chemistry falters. Universal made a big mistake not advertising the fact that this is the best romance of 2011 to date, focusing more on the action and sci-fi. It might have brought in more female viewers if they had fine-tuned their marketing.

Plot synopsis cribbed from my theatrical review because, well, it’s not like it’s changed:

“Damon plays David Norris, a rising politician in New York who seems destined for the Senate and probably even higher but can’t quite seem to get it together. A last-minute scandal derails what appears to be a certain win as the movie opens and he’s preparing to give his concession speech when he runs into a dancer named Elise (Blunt) in the men’s room. She’s hiding out because she just crashed a wedding and security is after her. The two banter brilliantly for a little bit and even kiss but she runs off, likely to never be seen again.

The Adjustment Bureau was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 21st, 2011
The Adjustment Bureau was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on June 21st, 2011
Photo credit: Universal Home Video

While these opening scenes are happening, we see men in trenchcoats and hats watching the action, often from rooftops, as if they have something to do with it. Months later, after David’s concession speech, inspired by Elise of course, has made him into an even bigger political rock star, one of the mysterious men (Anthony Mackie) is ordered to make David spill his coffee. It seems he’s not supposed to get on a bus that morning and make it to work. When his “watcher” falls asleep and misses his mark, David not only runs into Elise again on the bus but gets to work to find everyone frozen and being “recalibrated.” Like when Neo met Morpheus, the walls are down.

The men in hats, led by John Slattery of “Mad Men,” explain the following to David: There are agents out there who make slight adjustments to make sure the human race continues according to plan. They don’t do anything drastic enough to be noticed but that time when your cell phone wouldn’t get a signal or you missed your bus, that was them “adjusting.” And they can even influence decisions, not directly but just in the way people process upcoming decisions. They instruct David that if he reveals the wizards behind the curtain, they will fry his brain instantly. Oh, and he’s not allowed to see Elise again. Why? Well, he wasn’t supposed to see her on that bus and she’ll derail his fate — to lead the free world.

VERY loosely based on a Phillip K. Dick (“Blade Runner,” “Total Recall,” “A Scanner Darkly,” many more film adaptations), “The Adjustment Bureau” takes the author’s concept and does something very different with it, turning it into a commentary on what matters in the world. What do you do when your heart tells you something is right even though everyone else tells you it’s wrong? How far would you go to satisfy that heart’s desire?”

Watching “The Adjustment Bureau” again is a surprisingly rewarding experience. Freed from the demands of following the plot, one can appreciate the accomplishment here and, most notably, the ambition. “The Adjustment Bureau” is a weird movie — part “Dark City,” part romance, part political fable, part mystery. The complexities of the storytelling lead to a final act that gets bogged down in spirituality (the agents are clearly variations on the concept of angels and “The Chairman” will be read as God by many), but it’s forgivable that a script this complex gets away from a debut director. I admire the attempt but I almost think an experienced filmmaker could have made a true gem here by adding some missing style and pulling out some of the more expository dialogue. We don’t need every question answered in a film like this. “The Adjustment Bureau” works more the less it tries to explain.

The special features on the Universal Blu-ray are stellar, highlighted by some very interesting deleted scenes, including an entire character cut from the final film played by the great Daniel Dae Kim (“Lost,” “Hawaii Five-0”). Nolfi offers an informative commentary and the Blu-ray features interactive maps and interesting featurettes. It’s a great release. 2011 has been a surprisingly strong year, especially for genre fans, and this is one of the highlights so far.

“The Adjustment Bureau” stars Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and Terrence Stamp. It was written and directed by George Nolfi. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 21st, 2011. It is rated PG-13. content director Brian Tallerico

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