Review by Edward Gambichler
The Adjustment Bureau
“You can’t outrun your fate, David”
– Terence Stamp, The Adjustment Bureau ( 2011 )
In the two months of being a member of the staff of AlternativeMindz.com , I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of an exceptionally creative group of people ( whom I also have the honor of calling my friends ). And not only that, but I also get to contribute to this (in the words of the great philosopher and part-time pharmacist Charlie Sheen) EPIC collaboration by doing something that has long been close to my heart: watching and discussing films. I’ve written three movie reviews for the site so far. And when I write up these reviews……my only goal is to be hopefully as in depth and unique in my opinions as the movies I am discussing. For the “casual film-goer” who is asked to describe a film he/or she has seen, one of the most common phrases used in order to accomplish this task is “It’s like Movie A meets Movie B”. As a “film-lover” who takes great pleasure in dissecting a film’s themes, I am loathe to provide my fellow aficionados with so ham-handed and shallow a description. Unfortunately, I must fly in the face of my own approach and describe the subject of my fourth review…The Adjustment Bureau……as “An Affair to Remember” meets “Dark City” meets “Matrix Reloaded“.
I’d like to be able to say that the fault rests with me and my “oversimplified” view towards today’s box office releases. Unfortunately, the movie industry has not made it easier for me by sticking to time worn plot devices and genres. As I said to my good friend, Juan (and what would already be obvious to you), original films (ones consisting of a unique idea, plot, direction, or theme you have not come across before) are few and far between. Movie B is either derivative, a pointless sequel to, or an outright remake of Movie A. Although you are confidant you’ve never seen The Adjustment Bureau, it will no doubt strike several familiar chords.
The movie centers around a young up and coming politician named David Norris ( played by actor Matt Damon ) whose campaign for the New York Senate seat is derailed when questionable photographs of a drunken barroom “mooning” episode from his wild past come back to haunt him. Afterwards, he finds out he has dropped significantly from the polls and has lost the election to his older opponent. While rehearsing his concession speech in a men’s bathroom, he is startled by an enchanting young woman named Elise (played by actress Emily Blunt) who snuck in to use one of the stalls. To say their attraction to each other is strong is an understatement. and not only does David get a kiss from the young lady, but a second wind in the form of inspiration from his brief hookup. His concession speech goes from a humbling admission of defeat to a rousing and honest promise to bounce back and further pursue his political future. From there, his Life is back on track and everything goes according to plan. Not David’s plan as we find out………but the Plan that has been implemented by a god-like being known as the “Chairman”. The race of human-like beings ( who are distinguishable in appearance from other humans only by the fedoras they wear ) who serve the Chairman to guide humans like David along their individual Path are referred to as simply, The Adjustment Bureau. They are the ones who are really in control of our reality and who make sure all the events in our lives are engineered towards the execution of this Plan.
David is derailed from his Path one day, however, when his assigned Adjuster Harry ( played by actor Anthony Mackie ) falls asleep and misses guiding David though a crucial window. It is within this unexpected gap of time that David bumps into Elise again on a downtown bus (an event that was not supposed to happen ). The attraction between them is still palpable and she gives him her phone number. However, Harry was supposed to delay David and Norris arrives in his office ten minutes earlier than what was planned. There he is a witness to a bizarre event unfolding….. his co-workers and his best friend and campaign manager Charlie, frozen in place……while a team of Adjusters led by a man named Richardson ( actor John Slattery of Mad Men fame ) fine tune their victims memories and choices. When David observes the surreal scene unfolding him, he flees the office with the Adjusters giving chase. Despite his best efforts to shake them ( every time David seems to turn a corner………an Adjuster is there waiting for him..), they finally corner him and they take them into their custody. Knowing they have no other choice ( now that Norris has seen too much )…….they divulge their entire existence to David. Richardson informs Norris that he and his political ambitions are an important part of the Chairman’s Grand Plan. Unfortunately for David, and his budding romance, Elise was only suppose to inspire his rebound speech…….and that was the extent of her role. However, David ( who is still infatuated with Elise ) is unwilling to acknowledge the stakes of his role in the Plan. He is then informed that if he does not turn away from a Life with Elise…..not only will he jeopardize his future in politics…..but her dreams of being a famous dancer.
However, the attraction David feels for her is so powerful that he’ll risk everything he has to try to manipulate the forces and events surrounding him so he can keep Elise in his Life. In order to do that, he must go on the run with Elise, find the Chairman and convince him to forge a different Plan for the two……with a determined team of Adjusters hot on their trail.
This film is based on famous sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick’s short story Adjustment Team. And like the majority of film adaptions of Dick’s work….it is “loosely” based. Dick is one of those rare authors whose story concepts and central ideas translate well to film……but not his overall tone. With the exception of Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly…….most of these adaptations had to take on some of the aforementioned time worn devices to make it palatable to general audiences. With Total Recall…..it was an Action film. With Minority Report….it was a Chase film. And finally with the Adjustment Bureau….we have the Love Story.
Unfortunately, we have seen some of the themes present here in other movies already. In Dark City the world is populated by sinister beings who can manipulate humans ( much like the Adjusters ) in order to make them respond in ways they dictate. The Adjusters, in this film, utilize inter-dimensional doorways to travel from one geographical location to another (much like the corridors programs use to travel between two digital worlds (as in Matrix Reloaded). All in all………there is nothing that really makes this film stand out in the science fiction genre. People will likely recall this film ten years from now, but, it will not be first on anyone’s minds when they are asked to name the top sci-fi films of all time.
What this movie does benefit from is the extraordinary amount of onscreen chemistry between the two leads, Damon and Blunt. Damon has a gift for providing a relaxed atmosphere and rapport with his female co-stars (much like with Vera Farmiga in The Departed ). Based on their performances alone, this film would probably have found better success as a normal rom-com or drama ( without the sci-fi element ). Hopefully, this will not be the last screen pairing of the two.
Do we control our destiny, or do unseen forces manipulate us? Matt Damon stars in the thriller The Adjustment Bureau as a man who glimpses the future Fate has planned for him and realizes he wants something else. To get it, he must pursue the only woman he’s ever loved across, under and through the streets of modern-day New York. On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt)-a woman like none he’s ever known. But just as he realizes he’s falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart. David learns he is up against the agents of Fate itself-the men of The Adjustment Bureau-who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together. In the face of overwhelming odds, he must either let her go and accept a predetermined path.