In Theaters: Review of The Adjustment Bureau — Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are a star-crossed couple desperate to be together, even after they’re informed their relationship is not part of The Plan, and that refusing to lead separate lives could be disastrous for not only their careers, but also mankind. Do they surrender to fate, or play the free will card, consequences be damned?
I had a hunch I’d enjoy The Adjustment Bureau. Anything — be it a book, a TV series, a film, a play, or a discussion — that revolves around the Fate vs. Free Will debate is almost always guaranteed to be my cup o’ tea. Let’s not forget my obsession with a little show called LOST…
But while LOST served up questions and theories about whether or not our lives have predestined paths, The Adjustment Bureau takes a firm stand: There is a Master Plan, dammit, and if you don’t adhere to it, Mad Men cast members (and others just as snappily dressed) who always seem to be sporting bowler hats are going to pop out of nowhere and threaten to zap your brain into oblivion unless you do as they say.
David Norris (Matt Damon) — a charming politician whose star was on the rise before the media got hold of some unsavory photos — meets these mysterious fellows after a random encounter with ballerina Elise Sallas (Emily Blunt), who inspires him to give a career-defining speech. David learns from these men that he was never supposed to meet Elise in the first place, and now that he’s run into her a second time on the bus, they must put a stop to the unlikely couple’s budding romance.
Who do these men… these agents… work for? The Adjustment Bureau, a secret organization charged with ensuring a plan devised by “The Chairman” is carried out according to ever-moving diagrams they tote around on iPad-looking gizmos. If The Plan doesn’t unfold as it should, humankind may very well self-destruct. Seems we just can’t be trusted not to screw things up royally; the agents claim we’ve almost always had invisible hands guiding us in order to prevent global catastrophes.
My favorite parts of the film were the sci-fi-ish aspects: Agents walking into a closet, only to come out of a door miles away. Dozens of people frozen in time as “adjustments” are made to their memories. Cell phone calls dropping in the nick of time to prevent two people from communicating, in order to keep to The Plan. But the truth is that those fantastical segments played second fiddle to the They Can’t Stop Us! romantic exploits of David and Elise. Their on-again/off-again relationship, which is complicated by the fact that only David knows about the existence of the Bureau, is the core of the film. Ultimately, David must make a choice to either follow his heart (risk everything to be with Elise) or his head (heed the warnings that both of their careers will be destroyed if he doesn’t turn away immediately).
Many questions are left unanswered in The Adjustment Bureau, and there are some gaping holes in the plot when it comes to how and why the agents do what they do. That was fine by me — I don’t have any issue with ambiguity or with letting audiences use their imagination to piece together the finer points of a story. Unfortunately, however, screenwriter and first-time director George Nolfi threw together a half-baked explanation about David and Elise’s zig-zagging path in the final scene. It was so patronizing, as if viewers simply wouldn’t be able to come to terms with why things transpired as they did unless one of the agents delivered a big speech at the end spelling it out for us. A speech that held yet another twist — and one that I found to be quite hokey.
Aside from those last few minutes, though, The Adjustment Bureau is riveting. It’s not so much the sci-fi thriller it’s being marketed as, but rather a love story with a supernatural slant. The entire cast is excellent — Damon and Blunt’s chemistry is undeniable, and the agents (led by Terence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, and John Slattery) always seem a little bit… well, off. The action moves along quickly, the visual effects are flawless, and the questions raised will linger in your mind. On that note, it’s OK if you find yourself glancing around for hatted and suited men the next time your call drops… or your battery goes dead… or your car is suddenly out of gas. Perhaps your plans weren’t part of The Plan.
Redbox movies from the cast of The Adjustment Bureau: