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The Adjustment Bureau

Released 2011. Director: George Nolfi

ONE OF THE RECURRING THEMES IN SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES IS CONTROL. The control of a dystopian future, mind control, time control, even crime control, as seen in Minority Report (2002). In The Adjustment Bureau, human destinies are being controlled. The path of life is laid out neatly and in advance. What is meant to happen will come to pass.

The Adjustment Bureau is run by a group of mysterious men who all wear fedora hats and have the ability to open doors to go anywhere they need to. They make sure everything run according to plan, not a hair out of place. Kinda reminds me of annoying micro-managers.

Their target: David Norris (Matt Damon), rising political aspirant in the running to become a senator. Their task: to prevent Norris from meeting and staying in touch with dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). Their endgame: to make sure the two, in spite of their mutual attractions, never end up together.

Unbeknownst to Norris, a team of adjusters follows his every move, headed by Richardson (John Slattery), who steps in to fix glitches when David strays offcourse thanks to bureau minion Harry (Anthony Mackie) being careless or soft-hearted.

The bureau goes to great lengths to make sure David follows the path set out for him because one day in future he will become the President of the United States, so nothing is allowed to deviate from the plan otherwise the rippling consequences can be immense.

Hard as they try, David and Elise keep crossing paths, even after the bureau has managed to keep them apart for three years after their fateful early encounters. There seems to be a greater force at work that conspires to bring the couple together. Some might call this true love.

The Adjustment Bureau is based on a short story by the prolific sci-fi author Philip K. Dick. The religious undertone is so obvious here it’s not possible to label it an undertone. The bureau men are working for an unseen, all-powerful, all-knowing boss they called the Chairman who controls the life journey of every human being, with every action, every step, every decision already pre-destined, literally mapped out in a notebook which updates itself as events occur. Make no mistake, this movie has aspirations to be an earnest, thoughtful sci-fi. But hang on, is The Adjustment Bureau really a sci-fi? Which part of the story is ‘science’? Conventional science would never endorse the idea that an omniscient being is directing our every move to the last detail.

Even after being explained the big picture, David keeps finding ways to thwart the bureau in his unstoppable pursuit of Elise. His disruption to the grand plan leads to Richardson calling in the ultimate fixer Thompson (Terence Stamp) to put a stop to David’s foolish attempts to resist.

Is David fighting back in vain trying to change a divine plan? Is he just wasting time trying to affect the inevitable? This aspect of the plot raises an interesting question of whether there exists such a thing as free will in a universe so tightly dictated.

“You have the appearance of free will,” explains Thompson. Once the wheels are set in motion, the course is pretty much set as if you’re in a driverless vehicle to be taken to a predetermined destination. That’s life according to these guys.

The Adjustment Bureau is fairly enjoyable as an action movie that doesn’t involve any explosions, guns or car chases, though there’s absolute tonnes of running. The pace is brisk and never sags when it slows down, mainly to allow David and Elise to generate some sparks between them. The magic doorways, which are some kind of instant teleportation, are simple but highly effective visual stunt.

The bureau men, though they dress in grey tones, manage to stand apart with personalities, thanks to their empathy, fallibility and snide quips. Emily Blunt, always charming and vivacious, finds the right tone whether she’s besotted or bewildered. Romantic lead is not one of Matt Damon’s strong suits. He’s more like Jason Bourne, what with all that running and eluding capture. He also dares to challenge the Chairman by giving the bureau men his own design, never mind thy will be done.

Surprisingly, the Chairman grants David his wish. And with that wave of divine approval The Adjustment Bureau becomes a tale about true love pitted against fate. The couple fight to stay together, defying the most powerful obstacle of all. They are meant to be apart. Yet nothing stands in the way of two people who are prepared to take their case all the way to the executive floor. Now it sounds less a sci-fi and more like a Valentine’s Day date movie. Love conquers all.


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