Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau

Director: George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, and Emily Blunt
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Runtime: 105 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Infrequent coarse language and sex scene


Based loosely on Philip Dick’s 1954 short story, “The Adjustment Team,” this film blends together political conspiracy, sci-fi drama, and romantic comedy. Matt Damon plays David Norris, a charismatic New York politician on an ambitious rise to a Senate seat in the US. The media throws dirt at him at an inopportune time in the final moments of the campaign, and he concedes defeat in the Senate race. Before delivering his concession speech, however, he meets a mysterious and beautiful ballet dancer, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), who becomes responsible for his political decisions. His concession speech, earns him wide respect and admiration, and gives him another chance at election the next time around. However, this is all part of someone’s plans for his future. In between elections, Norris wonders about the girl he met, and he meets her again by chance on a bus. He then catches the same bus for three years, hoping to see her again. He is intent on pursuing her, but any romance between them will only foil his Presidential hopes, and someone is trying to keep them apart at any cost.

It is The Adjustment Bureau that is behind Norris’ every move. By accident he learns of its existence, but cannot tell anyone about it. The Bureau is an organisation that controls the media, and which has presidential hopes for Norris, but not unless he does everything exactly according to its plan. Any romance between Norris and Elise interferes with its intent. As the film progresses, the relationship between Norris and Elise comes to the fore, and the conspiratorial happenings with the Bureau recede into the background. Norris finds Elise, despite all the obstacles the Bureau puts in his path, and one knows that is going to happen.

The movie fluctuates almost unrelentingly between being a conspiratorial thriller, a self-reflective film about free will and pre-determined fate, and a piece of fast-paced romancing. The final resolution for the Bureau to make a gift of free will to David and Elise sacrifices any feelings of paranoia the film might have engendered along the way. Are Members of The Adjustment Bureau a pack of aliens, a superhuman race which knows what is best for mankind, or a body that has learnt how to supernaturally control the fate of human beings? We don’t know, and none of those alternatives is argued consistently. Humans no longer have free will, only the appearance of it, and their actions have lost for mankind the right to claim free will back, but it is not clear where the movie is taking us, or what it leaves with us in the final run.

Caught between the genres of romantic comedy and political conspiracy with philosophical overtones, the film ultimately flounders, but nevertheless entertains, partly because Damon and Blunt work so well together. Norris battles against the future determined for him by The Adjustment Bureau, and the romantic development of his relationship to Elise clearly lies apart from the conspiratorial overtones of the Bureau’s machinations. Ultimately romance triumphs, but at a cost to the feeling of political paranoia, that other American movies, like “The Parallax View” ( 1974), have aroused so brilliantly in the past. The contrast between free will and pre-determined fate is a theme always worth pursuing, but the film engenders only occasional feelings of paranoia, and never achieves full-blown persecution. Although the romantic sophistication of the film contrasts too heavily with its philosophical concepts and themes, Damon and Blunt work very well together. The chemistry between them sparkles, and their acting is solid enough, to carry the viewer along.

It is Elise, who turns out to be more important to David than The Adjustment Bureau, but provocative ideas behind a budding romance reliably fuel the viewer’s interest. As a result, the movie is not without considerable appeal. Important questions are raised and answered superficially, but one willingly suspends belief in the entertainment package that the film ultimately delivers.

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