Philip K Dick adaptations have been enticing prospects in Hollywood since Ridley Scott gave the world the mighty, glorious, near untouchable Blade Runner back in 1982. Since then we have seen Arnie get his ass to Mars in Total Recall, Keanu Reeves plunge himself into the rotoscoping world of A Scanner Darkly and watched Tom Cruise defy fate in the (in my humble opinion) highly under-rated Minority Report. The latest in this sub-genre of sci-fi films is The Adjustment Bureau - based on the 1954 short story by Dick called, Adjustment Team.
Interestingly the film itself doesn't really owe a lot to the original source material. Set in present day, the film tells the tale of rising New York politician David Norris (Matt Damon) as he falls for a beautiful stranger (Emily Blunt) after a chance encounter. A few months down the line it happens again but seemingly this "chance" wasn't suppose to happen, thus step in The Adjustment Bureau - a collection of mysterious, undeniably well-dressed men with psychic powers - to set him on his destined path.
As with past Dick adaptations, The Adjustment Bureau's themes push heavily on ponderous theories such as fate, destiny and wonders if we even have any control over it. Unlike past adaptations it does it with significantly less "sci-fi" imagery, relying on more spiritual answers for the company's existence, playfully hinting they might be angels and the like. Unfortunately because of this, the film loses a lot of the dark undertones often associated with the writer's work. It does however, result in one of the acclaimed author's more accessible entries into cinema.
The performances were largely pretty solid if unremarkable, Matt Damon lead the line well, and his chemistry felt natural with the beautiful Emily Blunt. I rather enjoyed John Slattery channelling his inner Roger Sterling from TV's Mad Men for the role as one of the Bureau's G-Men, while the moody melancholic, watchful guardian for Damon's character played by an impressive, Anthony Mackie was perhaps the stand-out performance of the whole feature. Special mention must also go to the delightfully sinister Terence Stamp, as the closest thing to a villain in the movie.
First time director, long time screenwriter George Nolfi does a good job of making a tense inventive love story - riddled in Kubrickian and Hitchcockian nods here and there - but it comes to no surprise to find it fails to match the efforts of past directors working with Dick's work. The problem with adapting his works is that it's virtually impossible and box-office suicide to make a straight take on most of his films, because for the large part it'll alienate mainstream audiences and become muddled in its own convoluted theories, so the best a director can hope is make a bloody fantastic film based on the material - Total Recall anyone? The Adjustment Bureau unfortunately falls just short of that.
All the right ingredients are on show to make The Adjustment Bureau yet another successful entry into the growing number of Philip K Dick adaptations we've been treated to the big screen over the years. Though at times provocative, its biggest crime is probably not being provocative or challenging enough given the enormity of the themes presented. A touch more grit, desperation and grimly overtones could've lifted it from a glorified romantic comedy in parts. Solid Saturday night fluff, but there's still "adjustments" needed... Yep that's right, I went there.
The Adjustment Bureau is now showing in most cinemas now.