Alright. I'll say it up front and get the giggles out of the way: I love Dick. Phillip K. Dick that is. You can see why Hollywood loves him too - a lot of his excellent work revolves around a fantastic hook or set-up. With the best of Dick's writing you can almost see him, hammering the keys of his typewriter, soaked in drugs and paranoia, feverishly trying to transcribe his vivid thoughts. And while Adjustment Team (as the short story is originally titled) is one of Dick's short stories that I haven't read (yet) you can certainly peg it as coming from him. The hook in this story is that fate and free will are illusions; there is a mysterious team of “Adjusters” out there, who work to make sure humanity stays on plan. They’re snappily dressed, be suited bureaucratic types and they don’t watch everyone, just those who are “fated” (i.e. planned) to make a difference in the world. One of these people is David Norris, a young and an impulsive up-and-coming Congressman who falls for an equally impulsive contemporary ballerina, Elise. Except they were only supposed to meet once; enter the men in grey suits and hats (the hats are important).
George Nolfi’s adaptation is a fairly muscular paranoid thriller with, of course, quite a sweet and real central romance. It’s not a perfect film by any means, and I feel like it was just short of being really great, but it was significantly better than I could have hoped for; there’s a lot of bad Dick out there (Next, Paycheck with Damon's old mucker Affleck). Nolfi and Damon obviously enjoy working together, as Nolfi has previously worked as a scriptwriter on Ocean’s Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum. Here he takes a turn directing as well, and if The Adjustment Bureau is anything to go by, he should be an interesting director to keep an eye on: I think he’ll be a writer/director that could grow with experience.
With Matt Damon, you couldn’t hope to have a better actor playing your young, up-and-coming US politician. He has the intelligence, charisma and good looks to pull it off, and has played the whip-smart and impulsive troublemaker before (Will Hunting, anyone?). He’s also had a fair bit of experience with running around in movies. Damon continues to prove himself as one of the best, and possibly least recognised, actors of his generation. Norris is a natural politician, but he had a rough childhood – his older brother, mother and father all died – and he is prone to self sabotage and reckless behaviour. Thanks in no small part to Damon’s performance, theses aspects of his personality do not overwhelm the character.
Emily Blunt plays Elise, the woman Norris falls for, with charm and a twinkle in her eye. She is a captivating character and the chemistry between the two leads is very real, especially for the first two thirds of the film. Hopefully this marks the beginning of something bigger and better for Blunt – she’s a talented young actress and has, unfortunately, found herself in a bit of tat amongst her better work (Gulliver’s Travels vs. The Young Victoria and, in my opinion, The Wolfman). Elise is impulsive, but not destructive. She could have easily been a fairly thin, unsympathetic character but Blunt helps to elevate her to someone the audience actually care about. It's a shame then, that come the end, she is reduced to following Damon around with her head-a-spin.
It is never explicitly stated, but it's made pretty damned obvious that the much mentioned "Chairman" is God and the "Adjusters" (Mad Men's John Slattery and Terence "General Zod" Stamp among them!) are grey-suited, bureaucratic angels. This is not an angle of the story I knew about going in, and actually preferred my own (mistaken) theory of these all being human Adjusters. Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) is Harry, Norris' guardian angel, working to make sure the Congressman stays on the plan. This doesn't necessarily mean guarding him, but more manipulating people and events around Norris. But over the years Harry has come to have a true affection for his charge and Harry is the one who comes to help Norris, feeding him information about the whole operation.
There is a perhaps worrying central thesis to the love story – Damon and Blunt are kept apart from one another, not because they are bad for another and they will cause harm to each other and their respective dreams and careers but because together, they’ll settle. They will both find the other person to be "enough"; they won't have to strive for those dreams they've always wanted and they won't encourage and help one another, because they'll be "content". That’s a very Dick message; a little bit of cynical mixed with the sweet. The other way, of course, to look at it is that there is an even higher power than the Chairman at work here; perhaps there is such a thing as fate and, if so, perhaps free will too.
In terms of Phillip K. Dick adaptations The Adjustment Bureau may not stand with the likes of the barnstorming insanity of Total Recall and A Scanner Darkly and sit more comfortably with the relatively straight ahead thrills of a Minority Report, it is a far cry from the worst adaptations seemingly only after a Paycheck.