DVD Drop: This column has been adjusted
The mind-bending (and underappreciated) "The Adjustment Bureau" hits video shelves this week
Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in "The Adjustment Bureau" (Universal Pictures)
In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to sell you on "The Adjustment Bureau." You'd have seen it earlier this winter, when it played theatrically, and you'd have loved it just as much as I do. In that perfect world, "The Adjustment Bureau" would have been a monster hit, acclaimed by critics and embraced by audiences for its weird but endearing blend of thriller, romance, political satire and screwball comedy.
But we don't live in a perfect world, so I have to bring you around to "The Adjustment Bureau" all over again. Fortunately, I'm okay with that, because it fits nicely with the movie's larger themes.
Very freely adapted by writer-director George Nolfi from a short story by Philip K. Dick, "The Adjustment Bureau" is a movie about a young politician (Matt Damon) who discovers, quite by accident, that his destiny is not his own. And he's not the only guy with this problem; all of humanity seems to be under the direction of a group of mysterious gentlemen in very sharp suits who seem to have their own plans for us.
This revelation alone would be a lot to deal with, but then our hero learns that this cosmic schedule explicitly prohibits him from living happily ever after with his dream girl (Emily Blunt), with whom he shared a life-changing kiss on the night of a pivotal election. He rejects the idea that the universe wants to keep them apart. Wouldn't you?
That question -- wouldn't you? -- is what drives "The Adjustment Bureau," rather than the larger conspiracy stuff. Universal's marketing department chose to sell the movie as a sharp-dressed thriller, filling its trailer with images of Damon and Blunt being chased around New York City to make the picture resemble a fourth Jason Bourne movie. On one level, that's fair -- Damon and Blunt do a lot of running in this picture -- but on another, it utterly fails to communicate the appeal of Nolfi's movie. See, it's really a romantic comedy.
As I've argued before on this very site, "The Adjustment Bureau" is the story of a man who'll do literally anything to win the love of a woman, even though fate seems determined to keep them apart. Throw in the truly spectacular chemistry between Damon and Blunt -- and Nolfi's canny exploitation of same in their early scenes, so we're fully on the couple's side by the time the plot comes into play -- and you've got the bones of a classic rom-com, beefed up with action elements, light-hearted comedy and a touch of fantasy. I don't know how Nolfi did it, but he's made a movie that crosses over into almost every genre -- and manages to succeed in all of them.
Mind you, if you come in looking for a gritty action movie, you're going to be disappointed. "The Adjustment Bureau" has one terrific, head-spinning chase sequence, but it comes too late in the game if you're expecting the nonstop thrills of Damon's Bourne pictures. That's where the theatrical marketing went wrong, I think; it planted expectations that Nolfi's movie subverts from its opening scenes, which establish a much lighter and looser tone than Damon's clenched-jawed spy franchise would ever want.
That's fine by me, though. "The Adjustment Bureau" isn't a Bourne movie. It is what it is, which isn't quite like anything else you've ever seen. And you should see it as soon as you can.
E-mail Norman Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org.