For all its faults -- and there are a few, however minor -- 'The Adjustment Bureau' should serve as a great example for young filmmakers everywhere on how to hook an audience and keep them invested. It seems, as of late, that many movies have forgotten the basics in storytelling, often resorting to stock characters and established plot formulas. Look at 'The Tourist,' 'Battle: Los Angeles' and the very recent 'The Green Lantern.' Or better yet, don't. Thankfully, 'Bureau' is nowhere near the low quality of those movies. This film offers a compelling story inspired by a short sci-fi tale from Phillip K. Dick — I can't really say "based" since its only connection is the original idea. Also keeping the interest of viewers are the two main protagonists, played terrifically by Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.
The real crux of this romantic thriller is in the audience believing that these two unlikely people are truly inseparable, that nothing on this planet and beyond could ever keep them apart. Damon and Blunt deliver on that in spades. The chemistry between them is so profound and genuine that they win us over immediately in their chance encounter in the men's restroom. And later, when they bump into one another on the bus, they solidify our belief that they were meant for each other. When outside forces, dressed like '40s-noir detectives, try to intervene, we can't help but cheer for the two lovers to succeed and overcome the opposing forces. Their flirty, playful conversations mark the beginning of true love, and thanks to the two wonderful actors, the audience is hooked.
The script comes from George Nolfi, of 'The Bourne Ultimatum' and 'Ocean's Twelve' fame, who also makes his directorial debut with 'Bureau.' The script is brilliantly well structured. Before really digging into the plot's meatier aspects, Nolfi carefully sets us up to spend time with Damon's ambitious politician, David Norris, and Blunt's aspiring dancer, Elise. By the time those Hitchcockian shadowy figures show up, led by the likes of fedora-wearing John Slattery and Terence Stamp, we're already convinced their interference is unjust and even more importantly, immoral. They call themselves "caseworkers" — we like to call them angels, of course — and they ensure that humans follow a fixed plan written by a mysterious "chairman" — naturally, we also have another name for that omnipotent person as well.
This is where the plot hits a bump in the road. You can clearly read the religious, philosophical implications of predestination and free will within the story. They're there on purpose. But whereas Phillip K. Dick actually asks the question of how much control we have over our lives, George Nolfi appears to only want the idea as a simple plot device for a romantic thriller that feels reminiscent of classic Hitchcock. The film isn't exactly seeking to provoke a deeper, metaphysical discussion, but since it brings up the thought, it also becomes somewhat of a hindrance. For all its suspenseful build up of mystery and intrigue, the ending is ultimately anticlimactic and rather disappointing. Frankly, it's a cop out, as if Nolfi was unsure of where to take the story next.
In spite of all this, however, 'The Adjustment Bureau' remains stylishly entertaining and thrillingly captivating. Using metaphysical questions as a plot device, the first-time director delivers a suspenseful ride that's both fun and mildly thought-provoking. But the real triumph of the film is the winning chemistry of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Their performances and convincing bond is what effectively hooks audiences into seeing the story through to the end. The conclusion may not seem to deliver on what the script's plan promises, but the mutual attraction and rapport between the two leads does. And it makes for a good movie.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'The Adjustment Bureau' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The DVD-9 containing a digital copy of the movie sits comfortably on an opposing panel inside a regular blue keepcase with a shiny cardboard slipcover. The Region Free, BD50 disc starts with a series of skippable trailers from the internet, like 'The Eagle,' 'One Day,' 'The Debt' and 'Beginners.' Afterwards, viewers are greeted by the standard menu selection.
'The Adjustment Bureau' debuts with an attractively stylish 1080p/VC-1 encode (1.85:1) that won't likely make any waves but looks great nonetheless and stays true to the filmmakers' intentions.
The photography from John Toll ('Braveheart,' 'The Thin Red Line') shows a slightly muted color palette in most scenes, filled with overtones of grayish blue and teal. Primaries are not affected, however, displaying natural saturation levels which give certain sequences with a good deal of warmth and healthy skin tones. Contrast is not all that bright but it's unswerving and stable throughout, providing clear visibility into the far distance. With rich, profound blacks and excellent shadow delineation, the image comes with a pleasant depth of field. Definition and resolution are consistently strong and nicely detailed, precisely what we'd expect from a freshly-minted transfer.
Overall, the video presentation is not the sort to wow viewers, but it looks terrific nevertheless with a distinctive style in the photography.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is about par with the video, and likewise, it doesn't leave a big impression after all the excitement has died down.
The design is a very front-heavy affair, placing all its attention on the conversations and delivering highly intelligible dialogue. This cramps the imaging slightly, so there's little sense of space and atmosphere. It's not an entirely bad thing since the lossless mix also exhibits some pleasing movement between the other two front channels, widening the soundscape somewhat and showing a clean, precise mid-range. During these moments, clarity and details are quite excellent, finally providing some spaciousness with a nicely responsive low end. The nightclub scene is a good example of this as the entire system fills with music and cheers, extending the soundstage into the back speakers with satisfying envelopment. Only, moments like this don't happen often within the movie.
In the end, 'The Adjustment Bureau' sounds good, but it's nothing to get excited about.
Universal offers a nice collection of bonus features though it's far from extensive or in-depth.
'The Adjustment Bureau' is everything 'The Tourist' wanted to be, but ultimately failed at delivering, largely because it lacked the genuinely convincing chemistry of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. From first-time director George Nolfi, who also adapted the script from a Phillip K. Dick short story, the film is a stylish and thrillingly captivating romantic thriller with metaphysical overtones that are only mildly thought-provoking, but sadly, it all concludes with a whimper. The Blu-ray debuts with a great video presentation and strong audio. Supplements are equally solid, though not very in-depth, making the overall package worth recommending for fans and worth a look for everyone else.