Review: “The Adjustment Bureau”

With a strange premise and little in way of visual effects trickery, ‘Bureau’ is perhaps the most low-key and bizarre adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick story yet.

While this film certainly won’t be talked about in the same vein as the other more famous films based on the sci-fi author’s tales like “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and “Total Recall”, ‘Bureau’ still has its own charms with the effortless chemistry between Damon and Blunt helping get around many of the rather large leaps of faith it requires its audience to take.

Indeed, as a romance ‘Bureau’ is far more effective than its idiosyncratic explorations of the nature of free will. The film is anchored by about four or five extended conversations between Damon and Blunt that are easily the highlight – the playful banter is smart, natural, and fun.

It’s rare to see so effortless a pairing that not only just clicks but almost sparks on screen. This is significant because by the time the strange plot shenanigans start dominating the movie, you’re actively rooting for these two to get together despite the potential pain it could cause both of them.

The sci-fi elements are something of a mixed bag. Scribe George Nolfi, who makes his directorial debut on the film, goes low-tech with his approach – setting up the premise of a bunch of bureaucrats who regulate the bigger plan of a higher being. They also have the ability to open any door and on the other side is wherever they want to go, so long as they’re wearing their old fashioned hats.

On screen this is realised in a very grounded way. No flashy CG effects, just old fashioned trick photography of doorways opening into places they shouldn’t have access to. The inclusion of quasi-religious elements, are these guys angels and is there a God?, could be dangerous in the wrong hands and this does slip up at certain points as it tries to reason arguments to which there really isn’t an answer. Better is the way it portrays the workers for this bureau as dull, almost routine middle management types.

Also helping are the three key actors who play the bureau men who interact with Damon and Blunt’s characters. John Slattery as the frustrated agent who screwed up and is trying to correct his error, Anthony Mackie as the sympathetic one who is secretly trying to help the pair get together, and Terrence Stamp as a higher level and quite clinical enforcer who has come in to clean up the mess. All three deliver solid turns even with relatively limited parts that could’ve been flat in lesser hands.

Nolfi has distinctly re-imagined Dick’s tale and funnily enough it’s the newer elements here that click better than the cold sci-fi trappings of the original story. The mystery of the bureau and the possibilities brought up by what they do are interesting issues but they’ve been tackled far better in other works.

‘Bureau’ still works because it not only keeps many of the key questions ambiguous and open to interpretation, it also doesn’t forget the human angle. It’s tricky to balance these wild and big ideas with more intimate and believable moments along with some unconventional chase sequences for some pep, but Nolfi manages to do it with this quietly ambitious and generally satisfying piece of escapism.