The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

” I don’t care what you put in my way, I’m not giving up!”

Today’s movie is one that I’ve really been meaning to see for a while now. It’s one of the movies that inspired me to actually start this whole One Movie Each Day mission, because while I really had every intention of seeing it, I realized that I probably never was going to get around to actually doing just that. So of course, it’s taken me a good five six weeks of watching other movies to finally sit down and watch The Adjustment Bureau.

One of a long line of movies adapted from Phillip K. Dick stories, the film centers on Matt Damon as Brooklyn congressman David Norris. On the night that he loses a campaign for United States Senate, Norris meets Elise (Emily Blunt), their brief encounter inspires Norris to ditch his boilerplate concession speech, in favor for a more candid reflection on politics. This speech instantly cements him as the frontrunner for the next Senate election four years later. These opening scenes are interspersed with scenes featuring a group of mysterious men in hats who seem to be taking a great interest in Norris. Several weeks after election night, we see the leader of these men, Richardson (John Slattery) giving instructions to one of his subordinates, Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), to ensure that Norris spills his coffee at a very specific time and place. However, Harry briefly falls asleep, and Norris coffee intact boards a bus where he once again encounters Elise. This causes all sorts of problems for the behatted men, of the Adjustment Bureau, who we learn are slightly super-natural beings responsible for making sure that life turns out according to The Plan as laid down by The Chairman.

What follows is a fantastic piece of action, romance, and philosophy, as Norris struggles against fate itself, (as manipulated by the Adjustment Bureau,) to be with Elise. The film manages to grapple with big issues of free will versus predestination, and the role of God in shaping human history, while simultaneously remaining a brisk romantic action thriller. It would have been easy for the film to become bogged down in pseudo-philosophical mumbo-jumbo to the point that the action becomes meaningless, (like, I imagine, any sequels to The Matrix would have, if they existed, which they don’t.) On the other hand the film could easily have become just another mindless series of action sequences, relying on the film’s Dickian premise only as a gimmick for some cool chase scenes. However, it avoids either one of those extremes, and delivers a fun movie, that is just cerebral enough to keep you mentally engaged, and to provide something to think about afterward.

A major factor in keeping this movie enjoyable is Damon’s performance as Norris. He manages to deliver on a character that is incredibly charismatic and driven, and yet is also simultaneously enough of an everyman to be relatable. I completely bought into the character, both in his public persona as a rising political star, and in his private struggle for personal happiness in the face of the literal forces of destiny. Unfortunately, I was less convinced by Blunt’s Elise. I’m inclined to think this was more a failure of the writing than of the performance. While I certainly see enough of why she’d provide the inspiration for Norris to do what she does, I didn’t feel I saw enough of her point of view to really understand her motivation, and some of her choices. Given that one of the climactic moments in the film occurs when she does have to make a decision this weak background was a little bit disappointing. In some ways, Elise more a MacGuffin than a fully realized character.

This complaint aside, this really is a good movie. It tackles some of the big issues in all of philosophy and manages to do so while remaining an engaging and well-paced action movie. The film’s romantic elements are genuine, but almost entirely one-sided. This holds the film back from becoming something truly great, but it is very good, and certainly worth seeing.

 [The Adjustment Bureau (2011) РDirected by George Nolfi РRated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image]

OM|ED Rating: Worth Seeing