Unreal Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Are you in control of your life?

It’s a question that I’ve seen debated through endless religion classes in high school, and philosophy classes in college. It’s an abstract thought that manifests itself very smartly in The Adjustment Bureau, bringing the concept to life in a most literal way.

The film is based on a story by Phillip K. Dick, who has given us such sci-fi classics as Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. Like most of these, The Adjustment Bureau also succeeds in being original and creative. Time will tell if it secures classic status the way these others have, but it takes an incredibly high concept and effectively brings it down to earth.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is on the verge of losing a historic bid to become the youngest Senator ever elected. He paces in the bathroom rehearsing his speech when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt) a young woman who takes on his acquired political phoniness head on, and their revelatory conversation ends with a kiss. He goes on to deliver a memorable, improvised concession speech derived from his newfound inspiration, and is set to be the frontrunner for the next election

Men with hats patrol the streets, looking in books with lots of criss-crossing lines. One of these men is assigned to David, to make sure his life goes as planned. But when a much needed vacation never comes and his man falls asleep at the wheel, David’s path changes, he sees Elise again on the bus, and walks into a room filled with men who have frozen time, and are tampering with his friend’s brain.

What? No girl agents allowed?

He’s thrown through a door and into a vast warehouse, he’s told that the men surrounding him make up the “Adjustment Bureau” who make sure everything is supposed to go according to “plan” based on instructions from their “chairman.” Because of one minor mistake, David’s life has derailed itself, and if he pursues romance with Elise, he’ll never fulfill his ultimate destiny of becoming president.

The idea doesn’t come across great on paper, and it didn’t really in the trailer as well, but as you can see, there are very interesting religious elements at play here, as it becomes clear the agents and the chairman are stand-ins for well…you get the idea.

The film itself is well-paced, and offers a surprisingly gripping thriller, despite no actual danger. The agents have the ability to alter events in a person’s life, be that dropping a phone call or making coffee spill. Only rarely do they do something that would be considered a catastrophe, and their worst acts merely include a fender bender and a sprained ankle.

But the idea of someone literally running away from their pre-destined fate is surprisingly exciting. David wrestles with the idea of giving up true love so he and Elise can have successful lives, and it’s an emotional struggle rendered convincingly by both Damon and Blunt.

“It says we’re currently filming a rather good movie!”

The Bureau itself is made up of interesting characters. David’s agent is Harry (Anthony Mackie) who doesn’t quite believe that predestination is right. His boss is Richardson (John Slattery) who takes a more strict approach, but does it with a wink and a smile. But when things really get out of hand, Thompson (Terrance Stamp) is brought in to “bring the hammer down” on the burgeoning romance once and for all.

It’s unclear what lesson you’re supposed to take away from this grand philosophical and religious debate, but in any event, the way the question is portrayed is extremely creative, and the film itself, despite its lack of actual danger, is riveting to the very end.

It’s a bit unfortunate that by the finale, characters that had formerly major roles aren’t given proper conclusion. Slattery’s Richardson essentially disappears from the last segment of the film, as does David’s close friend and campaign manager Charlie (Michael Kelly) who played a large role early on.

There are also a few plot devices that seem incredibly shoehorned into the story. Yes, it’s necessary for water to cloud agents’ predictive powers, and that they need hats to travel through teleporting doors, but it seems rather silly and arbitrary at the time, and like these factors were thrust in to fill major plotholes. I guess that’s more Dick’s issue than the film’s.

But The Adjustment Bureau is a welcome surprise, and a very innovative film that’s unlike anything I’ve seen previously. Now, to reflect on whether or not I was predestined to like this movie, or if I willingly chose to do so.

3.5 out of 5 stars

I wish fedoras would come back.

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  1. Spoilers!

    Overall I enjoyed the movie and really liked the premise. The ending was a let down because it was too simple. The rest of the movie was setting you up to think about free will and determinism etc… But in the end it came down to this:

    Damon: I want to live how I want to live.

    Bureau: No.

    Damon: But I really really want it.

    Bureau: Oh! Well you should have said you “really really” wanted it in the beginning. Anything else we can do for you today?

    C’mon! This isn’t a Disney movie where no matter how many bullets they pumped into the hero or sidekick they come back to life and everything is perfect in the end. There are seriously no consequences for deviating from the plan? All that talk of destroying both your dreams was meaningless? What if the monster in the horror movie finally caught you after two hours of frantic running only to realize he had no teeth, claws, and was only trying to return your wallet your dropped back in the spooky alley?

    There are probably a few billion people on the planet in circumstances which they “really really” want changed who need it more than Mr. and Mrs. Privilegedgoodlookingwhiteyuppies.

    My point is that it had a ridiculous fairytale happy ending/deus ex machina which negates any real depth or meaning that was built up prior to the end. I didn’t expect a happy ending, just a more complicated one.

  2. I liked this movie, but it absolutely destroyed the scale for unintentional comedy

    Matt: (runs into women’s restroom) Emily, I love you, I’m sorry I left you, please don’t marry the other guy. Also, there’s a supernatural organization that controls our fate and they don’t want us to be together and it turns out the human race has no free will. Also, you need to abandon your fiance and run off with me, the asshole who’s already abandoned you twice. We’re going to go into this supply closet, but it’s fine because I’m wearing a hat.

    (Adjustment guy runs in, Matt destroys him with one punch)

    Emily: Wait, what?

    I was cracking up the whole time

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