On a rainy Friday afternoon, I had some decisions to think about as I headed to see The Adjustment Bureau. Settling into my theater seat, I turned to my friend and said, “Great; I’m weighing my options and now I get to think about how all I have is the illusion of free will!”
The Adjustment Bureau stars Matt Damon as David Norris, a young congressman running for the Senate who meets a charming, unnamed young woman (Emily Blunt) on election night and feels an immediate connection. A month after losing the election he meets the woman again, this time on the bus, learns her name, Elise, and gets her number. Everything seems to be going well until a cohort of fedora-ed men step in and change the course of David’s life forever. David has glimpsed behind “a curtain [he] wasn’t supposed to know existed” and discovered the Adjustment Bureau, a team of professional meddlers who change small events in people’s lives in order to keep them on “the plan,” authored by The Chairman. People think they are in control of their lives, and sometimes chance makes an impact, but really the plan and the Adjustment Bureau enforce each person’s fate. For undisclosed reasons, the Adjustment Bureau is bound to keep David and Elise apart, or else both of them will lose their dreams. Aided by a rogue Adjustor, Harry (Anthony Mackie), David is dead set on finding Elise and staying with her, no matter the cost.
While not “more thought-provoking than Inception,” The Adjustment Bureau is a wonderfully written story with a compelling plot and snappy dialogue. I honestly enjoyed the journey of watching David struggle with accepting his fate or fighting against it. While obviously working with age-old questions about fate and freewill, the film offers relatable characters who I grew attached to early in the story. The Adjustment Bureau also works with tropes about omniscience and omnipotence without becoming preachy or heavy-handed. It’s open-ended enough to be inclusive and clear enough to make sense and avoid triteness. On second thought, maybe going to The Adjustment Bureau when you have big decisions weighing on your mind is a great idea.
The aesthetic of the movie is pretty cool. The costumes and sets combine elements familiar to political dramas while also drawing in more retro-noir looks that almost give the setting a timelessness. At moments the fedoras and 40s-50s era outfits of the Adjustors seem a little cheesy, which I’m sure is not helped by John Slatterly being so strongly associated with AMC’s Mad Men. Still, the beauty of New York in autumn with the rich colors of Elise’s wardrobe contrast with the blues and grays of David’s suits and the Adjustment Bureau’s stark offices, accentuating the tug-of-war between love and ambition, fate and freewill in the story.
Finally, the performances really bring everything together. As previously mentioned, the dialogue in the movie is very clever and with lesser talents could have become over-the-top or simply fallen flat. Blunt and Damon, however, make the conversations sound natural and their chemistry sells the flirtation. If anything is obvious by now, it’s that Damon likes scripts that require him to run for his life. At The Adjustment Bureau, John Slatterly as Mr. Richardson and Terence Stamp as Mr. Thompson bring the right balance of campy noir and utter exasperation to their roles, so that their characters are both funny at times and eerie at others. Cameos by politicians and media figures such as Madeleine Albright and Jon Stewart add a surprising bit of reality.
I have two major criticisms of The Adjustment Bureau. First, the pacing was weird. There were fast paced sections offset by really slow ones, and while mostly this issue wasn’t noticeable the movie did seem slightly out of balance. More importantly, however, I found the ending entirely disappointing. After such a wonderful story, such an anticlimactic conclusion felt like a cop-out.
I rate The Adjustment Bureau 4.5/5 stars.
The Adjustment Bureau was written and directed by George Nolfi, based on the short story “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick. It runs 105 minutes and is rated PG-13.
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