Reel Matt

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The Adjustment Bureau

Film #352


The affair between a politician and a ballerina is affected by mysterious forces keeping the lovers apart.

Year 1, Day 352

BEFORE: Science fiction links last night’s film, The Final Cut, to the next two-day chain of Matt Damon films with the first being The Adjustment Bureau. It stars both Damon and Emily Blunt and is written and directed by George Nolfi who also co-wrote the brilliant The Bourne Ultimatum. This film seems to be in a similar vain but also different, so I’m excited to see what’s in store.

AFTER: After a slow start, The Adjustment Bureau really kicked it into high gear and delivered an incredibly rich and thought-provoking story that had me thinking back to my ethics class last semester (I’m sure Sam Harris would have a lot to say about this film). Once things get going, it’s hard to turn your head away because, like the characters, there’s a certain level of expectation but also one of uncertainty. It’s this dichotomy, and it’s greater importance, that make The Adjustment Bureau fun to watch.

Like the film, why don’t I start slow and build up to the good stuff. This film starts off much like any other albeit with a hint of mystery given the fact you know it’s a science fiction film going in. But besides this foreknowledge, nothing about the opening is striking. Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) is running for Senator of New York and you see the ups and downs of his campaign. Eventually, Elise (Emily Blunt) comes along and makes a profound impact on David before she leaves without giving her name or number. Until about thirty minutes in, The Adjustment Bureau plays out like an ok romantic film - not bad, but nothing really special about the film or the relationship. There are a few glimpses of the film’s real strength when you see Harry (Anthony Mackie) and other men in hats following David’s movements. But here in the beginning, this doesn’t work. It feels like the film is trying to force the science fiction down our throats without it coming naturally. It’s one thing to tease the “adjusters”; it’s quite another to begin explaining things in a half-assed way.

What’s great is that things dramatically improve from that point. When the “adjusters” and the whole conspiracy element come into play, the film hits its stride. Some could argue that the film explains too much (they go into a fair amount of detail about who these people are, what they do, and the history behind it all), but I argue they didn’t explain enough. Not in the specific, detail-oriented sense but in the big picture, life-altering sense. At its roots, this film is one about free will and the difference between our ability to choose our own path and merely following one already laid out for us. The brilliance of the film is how it manages to present both sides: it primarily says that life is predetermined and we have no free will (I think Sam Harris would agree), but doesn’t rule out the possibility of altering that plan. As I often did in my ethics class, I found myself going back and forth here when new points were made or ideas introduced that contradict the previous line of reasoning. And it’s practical application - following the effect the Adjustment Bureau has on David and Elise - is also handled well. Time elapses and the characters themselves change. Especially in David, we see the internal struggle he goes through as he tries to decide what the “right” thing to do is, or for that matter, what can he do? On the other side of the curtain, there’s Richardson (John Slattery) and Thompson (Terence Stamp) in addition to the aforementioned Harry, who all bring a certain authority to this whole idea. They make the film seem highly plausible (as much as it can be) that people running around making you spill coffee on your shirt at precisely 7:05. Clearly it’s science fiction, but you very easily and willingly suspend your disbelief.

Once The Adjustment Bureau gets going, there’s some great entertainment to be had. There’s mystery, a highly thought-out story and backstory, and of course, a few chase scenes thrown in for good measure. There’s just the slow beginning and a few moments later on in the film (a certain incident with Thompson comes to mind, but alas, spoilers), but for the most part, this is a film you can both sit back and enjoy or, more likely, make you sit up and think.

RATING: 4 out of 5