The Adjustment Bureau

Are we just puppets?

  • Director: George Nolfi
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly
  • Screenplay: George Nolfi
  • Based on Novella by: Philip Dick
  • Music By: Thomas Newman
  • Cinematography: John Toll
  • Running Time: 106 Minutes
  • Premiered: March 4, 2011
  • DVD Release: June 21, 2011

Synopsis: The affair between a politician and a ballerina is affected by mysterious forces keeping the lovers apart. (Synopsis from IMDb)

Review: The Adjustment Bureau is similar to The Matrix and Inception in that it also explores the concept of free will and predestination. Based off a Philip Dick short story, the movie explores the effect of life adjustment. These legions of adjusters who manipulate events in order to make sure everything goes according to plan. Of course the narrative never really explains whose plan the adjusters are following, they just work off the book of predetermined life courses. The film is not a deep exploration about time and decisions, instead it is a romantic tinged exploration of fate versus choice.

While The Adjustment Bureau is not a serious film it has an intriguing plot, exploring why some people are unlucky in love. In this case, out lovelorn hero is a politician named David Norris.  Matt Damon is perfectly cast as a congressional candidate who is increasingly averse to his chose profession.  One fateful evening David finds his career in jeopardy because of some salacious phots acquired by the New York Post. That same evening, David walks into a men’s restroom at the Waldorf Astoria and encounters Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). Elise’s devil-may-care attitude intrigues David, but security chases her out and he fears that she is gone forever. This sets up the main climax because Elise and David were never meant to meet, even though they find themselves drawn to one another.

David then sets out to find Elise but finds his attempts hampered by mysterious forces. These forces turn out to be men wearing suits and fedoras who constantly duck into/out of random doors. These adjusters are Harry and Richardson (Anthony Mackie and John Slattery). They for the Adjustment Bureau and go around making corrections to lives that have gone askew.  Such as David and Elise meeting. Mitchell tries to convince David that pursuing Elise will ruin her life. However, the heart wants what the heart wants and David blithely ignores the warning. This causes David and Elise to start exploring the rectilinear world of Manhattan and the path of crisscrossing wormholes, which are not subjected to the laws of time/space.

This is where the film really let the ball drop. Harry and Richardson are these all-knowing beings who have knowledge about future events and are tasked with putting people back on the path designed by the Chairman. So Harry and Richardson spend all their time trying to keep David and Elise apart. These guys have supernatural powers, they can access a series of doors that permit them to travel around Manhattan in seconds. However, these abilities are not explained and what they can/cannot do is never totally clear. This makes their involvement overly convoluted and confusing. Instead of coming across as an ominous presence, the adjusters seem more like convenient plot devices. Whenever David and Elise are close to finding happiness, in swoops the adjusters to change the script. I would have liked a more detailed exploration of the mythos behind the adjusters.

Unlike The Matrix and Inception, Bureau misses the mark focuses on romance over suspense. Damon and Blunt own every scene they are in, their characters really pop off the screen. This is by far Damon’s most romantic role and he does a great job portraying a lovelorn guy. Blunt is charming as the free-spirited Elise. They have great onscreen chemistry and sell the whole star-crossed lovers scenario. Anthony Mackie and John Slattery are shortchanged and do not have much to do onscreen. The narrative would have been stronger if the romantic arc was relegated to a subplot. Instead, the film should have explored the tension between David and the adjustors. Most of the plot resolution occurs too early and does fulfill the suspense hinted at in the beginning of the film. At the end of the film, I still had questions about the adjustors. Are they humans or angels? Why was Norris singled out from every other adult male on Earth? Do the adjustors monitor the entire world or just Manhattan? Why is the Chairman so interested in David and Elise? Also, the narrative barely explores the theological differences between free will and predestination.

Perhaps the best character in the film is Manhattan. The city is gorgeously represented and the cinematography makes the city sparkle. The screenplay was well-written and the main characters were well developed. I hope Blunt and Damon do another romantic type film, they were the highlight of the film. Overall, I enjoyed the film. It just needed more depth in order to be amazing instead of adequate.