Maybe it was the unavoidable aesthetic similarities to Inception, or the release date in the usually ho-hum month of March, but most moviegoers ignored The Adjustment Bureau when it was in theaters earlier this year. Most moviegoers missed out. It's an action thriller that's more thoughtful, and a lot more romantic, than what you usually get in the genre, boasting yet another star turn from Matt Damon that proves he's capable of absolutely anything, plus some killer chemistry between him and his co-star Emily Blunt.
Director George Nolfi, a screenwriter on Ocean's Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum who makes his directorial debut here, gives The Adjustment Bureau a gorgeous visual appeal that's absorbing even on Blu-Ray; the movie doesn't look or feel like anything else you've seen, and while that means the story specifics get a little loosey-goosey toward the end, it's always refreshing just to see a movie aim high, even if it stumbles.
It's a kind of revelation to see Damon cast as a politician in this film, his toothy grin and unbeatable appeal lending themselves perfectly to David Norris, a rough-and-tumble Brooklyn kid grown up to become a promising New York Congressman. On the night that he loses his bid for the Senate he meets a beguiling dancer named Elise (Blunt) in the bathroom at the Walforf-Astoria; their brief encounter gives him the renewed energy to give a concession speech that reignites his career all over again. As fate would have it he manages to run into Elise the next morning on a city bus… but the agents of fate would argue otherwise. Not long after re-encountering Elise he's spirited away to a concrete room where one of several stern men in suits (John Slattery) explains that he's a member of the Adjustment Bureau, the organization in charge of making the world function, and David being with Elise is not part of their plan.
The story spins out from there, sometimes wild, sometimes romantic, always self-possessed and nicely cagey about where the next twist might lead. Anthony Mackie does good work as a junior member of the bureau, and Terence Stamp is mighty and spooky as a senior member-- the quality of the menswear seems to directly correlate to rank at the Bureau, which gives Stamp the opportunity to wear the hell out of a three-piece suit and scarf. But Blunt and Damon give The Adjustment Bureau its necessary heart; their immediate connection is palpable, and as Damon fights against the agents of fate and Blunt slowly understands the truth behind his strange behavior, the audience is drawn irrevocably into their struggle to stay together.
As an elegant extra layer to this twisty story, Nolfi adds New York City, shot gorgeously and with a special eye for its marvels of civic engineering-- the courthouse at Centre Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, the public library, all gleaming marble lobbies and massive white staircases. Nolfi shoots New York as if it were Rome or Paris, a titanic monument of society triumphing over chaos, a nicely understated nod to the sense of order the Bureau claims to give to the world when humanity isn't quite up to the job.
For most of the movie Nolfi does a good job of keeping these larger themes humming under the surface, but the third act does falter a little under the weight of the Big Questions asked, and the happy ending that seems pretty divergent from the world Philip K. Dick presented in the short story that inspired the film. But the ending is part of what makes The Adjustment Bureau such a special film, unflinchingly earnest and willing to be weird in the name of telling a story that actually feels new.
The Adjustment Bureau's box office disappointment is reflected in the Blu-Ray special features, none of which are as impressive as the beautiful high-def transfer of the actual film. The deleted scenes are probably the biggest highlight, revealing an entire cut character played by Lost's Daniel Dae Kim; he's one of the many Adjustment Bureau agents we see in the background of the film, and seems to take special pleasure in taunting John Slattery's character as he tries and fails to keep Matt Damon in line. The rich world of the Bureau itself-- the hints at endless paperwork and a corporate hierarchy-- is one of the running pleasures in the movie, and it's nice to get a glimpse at a secondary character who was unnecessary to the main story and rightly cut, but who still adds extra depth to the world.
Three behind-the-scenes documentaries, all clocking in at less than 10 minutes, highlight certain aspects of the film. The best focuses on the New York City locations and some of the special effects that went into linking them in the sequence late in the film when David and Elise run through the doors that allow the Bureau to travel through the city so quickly. One complete bore of a featurette allows Damon and Blunt to wax poetic about their chemistry together, and the third is slightly more intriguing, showing off Blunt's extensive training to play the dancer Elise. All feel very standard issue and lifted from the press kit, though, and you wonder why they couldn't get some of the excellent supporting cast, like Slattery and Mackie, to chime in about their own work.
There's also a Blu-Ray exclusive feature that goes deeper into the linked doors used by the Bureau, including some commentary from Nolfi about how they were all put together. Finally there's Nolfi's commentary, only for those interested in the hardcore geeky details about how the film was put together-- which, granted, I am. Nolfi's narration is a little sleepy, and it seems he could have benefited from a partner to bounce off of, but he's clearly passionate about the project and eager to point out the amount of detailed work that went into it. For me The Adjustment Bureau is such an engaging movie that I'm dying to finish the movie and jump right into this kind of detail, but anyone into the movie just to watch Damon run through another city on a mission probably won't find much to grab them here.
The combo pack release allows you to get the Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy all at once, and the Blu-Ray is the clear one to watch if you have the option-- it's a beautiful looking movie that merits the full high-def treatment. The special features could be more in-depth, but the movie itself is good enough upon second and third viewings to merit the purchase on its own.