The Adjustment Bureau
This same debate consumes the science fiction love story The Adjustment Bureau, which is adapted from the Philip K. Dick short story “The Adjustment Team”. David Norris (Matt Damon) is an up-and-coming political star who is running for a Senate seat in New York. Only a few hours away from giving, what eventually becomes, the most influential speech of his career, David meets a beautiful young dancer named Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). The pair hit it off immediately and David cannot seem to get Elise out of his head. Was their meeting merely a chance encounter? Or is she the woman David is destined to spend the rest of his life with? David accidently stumbles upon the secret Adjustment Bureau, a team of higher beings who are responsible for ensuring that everyone follows the path laid out in their life plan. One team member in particular, Harry (Anthony Mackie) has spent the bulk of his career ensuring that David stays the course up until this point. In order to avoid having his brain wiped clean, David is instructed by Richardson (John Slattery) to never see Elise again. Yet the desire to see Elise may be too strong for David to overcome.
There was a point two thirds of the way into the film when my wife leaned over and whispered to me “the movie was pretty good up until this point”. I could not even utter a response because frankly I thought the film had gone off the rails well before that moment. While I give writer-director George Nolfi credit for attempting to make a thought provoking love story, the fact that he is too afraid to take a firm stance is what ultimately ruins this film. The Adjustment Bureau spends way too much time trying to please the masses that its overall message, and logic, gets muddled.
Characters, such as Harry and Richardson, constantly remark that the “Chairman”, who is the unseen God like deity, is the one who makes the plan that everyone must follow it. Yet, Nolfi hints at the notion that maybe the “Chairman” makes mistake. Since Nolfi never wants to fully commit to the idea, the film ends up being too light to be either thought provoking or thrilling. This is most evident when looking at the character of Thompson (Terrance Stamp). The audience is given that Thompson is the harshest guy in the bureau ranks, he is the guy that gets results by any means necessary, yet he is more bark than bite. At no point does he use the advance technology that the bureau has to plant the thoughts needed to break the two lovebirds. In an earlier scene, Nolfi demonstrated that the bureau often manipulates the minds of individuals to ensure they make decisions that will positively impact someone else’s plan. Why not do the same thing here? For beings with such advances capabilities they rarely seem to know how to effectively use them. For example, there is a moment when David finds himself within the walls of the bureaus head office and proceeds to run through a good bulk of the building untouched. A few people try to tackle him but most merely stand around looking stunned.
The love story is at the core of The Adjustment Bureau is decent as Damon and Blunt have good chemistry together. Unfortunately the success of the love arc relies heavily on the central questions regarding fate and free will. If the film had been more daring in terms of taking a firm stance, this might have turned into a memorable love story. As it stands, The Adjustment Bureau wants to raise grand ideas but is too fearful to really talk about them.