The Adjustment Bureau is a perfectly well-made, enjoyable film that has a problem conveying its message and telling its story.
David Norris (Matt Damon) is a young hot-shot Democratic politician from New York who gets himself in trouble because, well, he’s young and a hot-shot. After a tough defeat in the U.S. Senate race, Damon encounters the beautiful and seductive Elise (Emily Blunt), whose brief encounter inspires him to give a concession speech full of authenticity. Problem is, he’s never supposed to see her again. The bigger problem, he runs into her again and again.
Adapted from a short story by science-fiction master Phillip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau tackles the difficult topics of true love, free will and higher power through the guise of a pseudo-sci-fi and corporate thriller. In a world where we think we are free to make decisions, we are actually guided by a team of dapper agents who have the ability to watch our lives and change our course if necessary. This set-up is pretty clever, although it can’t successfully separate itself from actually acknowledging that “the chairman” is God and the agents are some sort of angel class.
Although the film deals with some really heavy material, it plays it light and goofy, appealing to the broader crowd, which may alienate serious sci-fi fans. The humor and romance elements are quite enjoyable and save the film from becoming too dower. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have excellent chemistry and are absolutely stunning to watch on screen. Damon, in particular, is completely believable in his role and while he isn’t doing anything that is outside of his wheelhouse, it is another strong performance to build his glowing career.
My biggest problem with the film comes in the messages it tries to relay. As a film that pits free-will with predestination, it tries not to alienate any aspect of its audience. Because of this it treads an incredibly saccharine middle-ground while still trying to maintain its bite. Another story-telling problem comes from the fact that this is Norris’s story, which provides no real insight to Elise. While the film provides ways for Norris to not be able to find Elise (taking away her phone number, not knowing her last name, etc.), there is no reason why Elise shouldn’t be able to find Norris, who is a very public figure. Is this because she is being influenced by the adjustment agents, as well? Perhaps, but the only indication that they throw road blocks between her and Norris is through changing Norris’s course, not hers.
Finally, the film’s resolution is equally troubling. After putting our two lovers through complete hell the solution to their problems is so simple that it nearly demolishes everything that builds to it. Of course I’m going to tread lightly here to keep it spoiler free, but when the (for the lack of a better term) antagonist of your film is omnipotent, could it ever be satisfying enough to simply let the protagonist off the hook? This is a banner example of deus ex machina, as the savior is actually deus. The film tries to play this off as some sort of test to convince God of what is truly right, but I was convinced of Damon from the beginning.
The Adjustment Bureau is by no means a bad film, but when you have problems with the message and the storytelling, it’s not going to sit well. Well acted and proficiently shot while never really boring, there are far worse films you can see, but it’s always hard to let a film off the hook for what its ideas could become. It’s troublesome for a reviewer to knock a film for what he/she wants the film to be, but I feel it is appropriate to call out The Adjustment Bureau for squandering its interesting set-up and overall effectiveness.
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more