It is never an easy feat to develop a book into a successful film, maybe because of one’s closer attachment with literature as you would spend longer with that medium. In saying that, the films adapted from the works of American novelist Philip K. Dick tend to go down well such as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report which have all translated relatively well to the big screen. In 2005, Bourne screenwriter George Nolfi directed The Adjustment Bureau which is based, albeit loosely, on the short story The Adjustment Team. This was said to have been Dick’s ‘tunnel under the world’ themed tale in which our day-to-day existence is manipulated by an unknown higher power. His directorial debut, Nolfi clearly had a vision but it is a far cry from the complexities of Dick’s, taking the unique concept and running with it to Hollywood convention, squeezing a political action thriller and a rom-com into the mix, whilst trying to stay true to its science fiction origins.
Matt Damon stars as reckless Brooklyn Congressman David Norris alongside Emily Blunt as aspiring dancer Elise Sellas. After failing in his run for United States Senate, David has a chance encounter with Elise and typically, it is love at first sight, which doesn’t bode well with the manipulative Adjustment Bureau. They have a set path for everyone, and watch over from city rooftops as the world goes by, stepping in to tweak as need be, to ensure the human race get the predetermined future they are meant to. For such a menacingly dark premise, there is room to explore the matters further on a cinematic format but instead The Adjustment Bureau plays it safe, which is enjoyable enough but doesn’t take advantage of the original notion.
The romance angle feels forced and unconvincing despite the best efforts of the leads, and this true-love-conquers-all mentality dominates the plot, which leaves the interesting sci-fi stuff looking cool but underdeveloped. The poster tagline reads ‘Bourne meets Inception’ which instantly sets the production up for a fall as by trying to be the best of both, it never matches the quality of either. The action sequences are few and far between with David lacking the charisma of action man Jason Bourne and where Nolan’s dream delving narrative asked questions of its audience, here we are almost led through step-by-step with members of the secret society, explaining the twists as they come and go. When the feared Thompson is mentioned in hushed tones and introduced as villain of the piece, expectations rise but in walks Terence Stamp who looks like he would be more likely to offer David a Werther’s Original than to cause him any great torment. It promises so much and delivers little possibly due to the 12 certificate restriction.
The Adjustment Bureau will, for me, go down as a wasted opportunity, as it fails to capitalise on the potential of Dick’s intriguing twisted conspiracy theory. With so many avenues to venture down, a television series or even a film trilogy probably could have offered enough hours to satisfy the idea rather than glossing over in a film that doesn’t do it justice.