The compelling concept – that there are grey-suited bureaucratic angels loitering with clipboards to make sure we stick to life’s preordained plan – just doesn’t translate into a compelling film, despite the attraction of A-listers Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Writer/director George Nolfi (who wrote Oceans Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum) turns a short story by legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick into a long short film, dreadfully slow to get through the set-up, heavy with expositional dialogue once we are there, and riddled with plot holes.
Damon is the young politician David Norris who’s running for office when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a dancer with a wicked sense of humour and a refreshingly honest approach to life. Within moments they are in each other’s arms in a passionate embrace in the men’s bathroom at the Waldorf. It was just meant to be. Problem is that David is then supposed to forget about Elise and continue his meteoric rise through the ranks of power to the White House. That’s the plan laid down by “The Chairman” (the various words for “god” are carefully avoided), a powerful force who issues memos to a hierarchy of Adjusters who keep the complexities of fate on track. When David refuses to give up Elise, he is first warned by low-level bureaucrat Richardson (John Slattery) and then hunted by higher-up-the-chain Thompson (Terrence Stamp), the man who fixes problems with a bit more oomph than a form in triplicate. Of course David has to use all the action-hero running maneuvers he can muster to outfox Thompson and the growing army of bureaucrats on his case.
Where Dick’s short story The Adjustment Team is all mystery and irony, Nolfi’s tale is puffed up with ham-fisted metaphysics. We get unimaginative lectures on the problems of free-will, only to be followed by glib rationalisations when free-will triumphs over destiny. Nolfi is unsure too, whether this is a futuristic thriller, comedy or romance, and is hamstrung by being unable to make villains of the Adjusters. Despite having extraordinary powers, they seem unwilling to do much in the face of a determined mortal: perhaps The Chairman is more peace-and-goodwill than fire-and-brimstone. The result – with the exception of a few cute lines from Emily Blunt – is a bureaucratically grey and decidedly empty tale about very little.