There may be no other author so poorly served by Hollywood than Philip K. Dick, a writer whose work hasn’t just been misunderstood, but oftentimes completely mauled. The modus operandi seems to be to take one of Dick’s concepts and transform it into simple action flick (Paycheck), or perhaps a gory, bizarre sci-fi epic (Total Recall), or worst of all, turn it all into pretentious twaddle (A Scanner Darkly).
Granted, his short stories are far from cinematic, but anyone looking for a faithful adaptation of Dick’s short story “The Adjustment Team” in George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau will be quite disappointed. Then again, anyone looking for the taut political thriller promised in the film’s trailer is also likely to be let down. Instead, we have a science fiction film that’s actually—and refreshingly—about ideas instead of aliens blowing up national monuments.
The ideas, however, are less Dick’s, as writer and first-time director Nolfi has instead taken the basic concept of the original story and made it his own, for better or for worse. Both use the basic premise of a mysterious bureaucracy of pencil-pushers whose job it is to adjust and align reality—behind the scenes of what any normal human should ever see—in order to keep a greater plan in order, and what happens when a normal guy (in this case, Matt Damon as politician David Norris) stumbles upon this fact. What Nolfi has done is take the somewhat clever—but more paranoid and sometime nightmarish—“Adjustment Team” and turned it into a love story, with bits of thriller tied in.
It’s a love story, though, that has its own ideas built on top of Dick’s original thoughts, never forgetting the subversive nature of sci-fi. Unlike its source, The Adjustment Bureau less about what really lies behind the curtain of reality and the implications of uncovering that very thing, and more about fate, destiny and the true nature of free will. There’s even a bit of religion—and the question of when it’s appropriate to rebel against these things—thrown in.
The romantic aspects are the least of the film’s worries, mostly due to the chemistry between Damon and Emily Blunt. Instead, the film rises and falls on the viewer’s ability to buy into the film’s occasionally goofy concept of a bloated bureaucracy controlling humanity’s fate. But if you can suspend that disbelief, the film is interesting in what it wants to say, even if its climax has nowhere to go and turns out to be a bit of a dud. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.