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.