Sometime in the last year, Matt Damon developed a love for faux-philosophical films with religious overtones. Obviously he has forgotten the words of his friend, Ben Affleck: “What’ve I been telling you? You gotta do the safe picture. Then you can do the art picture. And sometimes, you have to go back to the well.” And sometimes you do “The Adjustment Bureau.”
On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a woman like none he’s ever known. But just as he realizes 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. (Synopsis by Universal Pictures)
A contender for biggest disappointment of the year, the film has a strong premise to build upon but never gets beyond director George Nolfi’s limited experience penning a screenplay. Almost from the beginning, it is obvious the paper-thin plot is going to be supplemented by chase scene after chase scene. In the brief moments separating Damon’s literal marathon, the plot unfolds in an egregiously slow fashion. The central problem is that the plot mirrors “Sleepless in Seattle” in its depth. Boy falls in love with girl, but is separated by other forces until they finally come together in the face of all odds.
The core of the plot is supposed to come in the form of the mystery of who is behind the forced separation. What could have been explored in deeper religious tones is instead relegated to one line that doesn’t deny it is God, but also essentially confirms the assumption. If Nolfi decided not to alienate any potential audience by being religious, he manages to alienate everyone by being indecisive. The true lesson learned by the end of the film is that we all follow a predetermined path unless God changes his mind, which he apparently does with the frequency of Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.
There are a few positives, the acting and visual effects being the high points. The casting is excellent and the actors do enough with the script to make it palatable. If this had come out before “Inception,” it would have made the visual styling, and to some degree the plot, seem more original (even though “Inception” stole its story from Donald Duck—no, really). The chase scenes are fun for a while, but become tedious by the end of the film. Almost every transition between scenes involves Damon running out of the frame.
The film takes too long to develop and relies on inappropriate chase scenes to carry the burden of the weak writing. The film plays out like sappy romantic fare that wanders aimlessly. What philosophical questions it raises are never addressed in any definitive terms.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: Skip it. Go watch “Phantoms” instead. Affleck is the bomb in that.
ONE AND A HALF STARS out of four.
Directed by George Nolfi. Written by George Nolfi and Philip K. Dick.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.
Runtime: 1 hour, 45 min