On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Matt Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt)—a woman like none he’s ever known. But just as he realises he’s falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart. David learns he is up against the agents of Fate itself—the men of The Adjustment Bureau—who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together.

3.5
Solid adaptation from debut director.

The best film adaptations of iconic author Philip K. Dick’s books have, to varying degrees, featured strong romantic subplots that act as an anchor to the fanciful futuristic settings.

Though his 'wives' are either traitorous villains (Sharon Stone in Total Recall, 1990; Madeline Stowe in Impostor, 2001) or damaged goods (Katherine Morris in Minority Report, 2002) – Dick’s love interests (or rather, the screenwriters’ adaptation thereof) have been crucial to the narrative and thematic thrusts of his oeuvre. Imagine the shell of a man Harrison Ford’s Deckard would have been without Sean Young’s Rachel in Blade Runner (1982).

Debutant director George Nolfi’s self-penned take on Dick’s short story The Adjustment Team, retitled The Adjustment Bureau, brings the romance of the author’s plotting and prose to the fore like never before. The result is an occasionally over-ambitious but deliciously intriguing exploration of the destiny-altering lengths to which one man will go to spend eternity with his true love.

Shunning the familiar science-fiction milieu usually associated with Dick’s stories, Nolfi turns modern New York City into an Escher-puzzle workplace for minions of an omniscient being, 'The Chairman’. These foot soldiers sport retro fedoras, which both look great and offer the 'agents’ the luxury of dipping in out of our human existence, the purpose of which is to keep The Chairman’s grand plan on track.

A quantum-conundrum presents itself when failed Senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) meets-cute with sassy, sexy ballerina Elise (Emily Blunt) and romance blossoms. This coupling is considered 'off plan’, and when senior Adjustment operative Richardson (John Slattery) fails to deal with the mess (his efforts undercut by Anthony Mackie’s soft-hearted agent Henry), the ultimate fixer is called in – Thompson (Terence Stamp, at his malevolent best). However, the Bureau underestimates the determination of Damon’s Norris; he is willing to take things all the way to the top to be with his Elise.

A bulked-up Damon and the lithe Blunt generate a strong chemistry and the scenes that establish their deep romantic bond are lovely; she is more naturally effervescent here than ever before. The obligatory final reel chase sequence, though suitably exciting and effective within the established logic of the story, nevertheless feels contrived given the lack of hard-edged action throughout the film.

The Adjustment Bureau is not the sort of film one expects from the current crop of Hollywood suits; full credit to Universal Pictures for backing a fantasy concept that asks its audience to check their cynicism at the door and believe in the old-fashioned power of love. Such all-or-nothing romantic notions are usually pitched to a more mature audience, who would certainly respond to Nolfi’s stylish old-school visuals, but will the 40-something demographic buy into the film’s fantasy conceit? And will the sci-fi nuts who laud Dick’s work warm to non-futuristic, spiritually-infused existentialism? One look at the myriad of poster designs the studio has commissioned (six at last count) suggests that they know that it is a tough sell. Fingers-crossed that the marketing mavens earn their pay and generate first-week bums-on-seats. Nolfi’s film deserves to find an audience and should benefit from strong word-of-mouth.

While terrific looking in parts the defining assets of The Adjustment Bureau are not visual. The film expects a visceral response and commitment, both cerebral and emotional, to an alternate reality grounded in very real emotions. At its best, Nolfi’s film rewards that engagement of heart and head and in doing so, honours the essence of Dick’s stories with more integrity than many of the loose adaptations of his work to date.