The Adjustment Bureau
Directed by George Nolfi
Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt | 105 minutes
David Norris (Matt Damon) is set to become the youngest congressman of his generation, a bright and promising young man eager to make his mark on politics. When some ill-advised rowdiness with friends in a bar is captured on camera and broadcast across the media, David’s reputation is badly damaged and his political career seems to be in tatters. That is, however, until David meets Elise in the Men’s room of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, where he is practising his concession speech to his supporters, and where she is hiding after crashing a wedding.
After a brief but memorable encounter; a stolen kiss and some words of inspiration in David’s ear, Elise is ushered out of the building unceremoniously by security. David is left ruffled but resolute and subsequently gives a speech that sets him up for a successful comeback a few months later. Although seemingly back on track, the morning after the election defeat, when his mind should be occupied with a million and one things, all David can think about is Elise.
Divine Providence, Lady Luck or “blind chance”, whichever suits you best, would seem to favour David, when against all odds he runs into Elise in the same unlikely fashion as before, this time on a public bus. Hardly believing his good fortune David gets Elise’s number, promising to call her soon, it is at this point that The Adjustment Bureau (led by John Slattery and Anthony Mackie) step in.
The Adjustment Bureau is “the people who make sure things happen according to plan”, and have the ability to manipulate the circumstances in which we live. It would seem that David and Elise being together is not part of a predetermined plan for their respective futures, a plan to which the Adjustment Bureau has the blueprint. The bureau contrives to keep them apart so that David will continue along his path to presidency and Elise can fulfil her potential as a promising ballerina.
“The Plan”, it seems, is a series of events, not beyond human (or otherwise) intervention, put in place to ensure that humanity stays on a set course. An adjustment occurs when a person who has deviated off “the plan”, needs a little nudge in the right direction.
At one point David is supposed to arrive late to the office but, due to a mistake by an adjuster, he arrives on time to catch the Bureau in the act of changing things to suit the plan. When this happens, and things take a turn “off-plan”, David discovers the Bureau and their shady temporal tinkering, as well as its mysterious higher power, to which they refer only as “The Chairman”. With the threat of being “reset” and having his memory wiped if he doesn”t forget about Elise hanging over him, David decides to take matters into his own hands, regardless of what this might mean for his future and that of Elise. He lets his heart lead his head, somewhat recklessly, allowing emotion to trump reason, in the most unreasonable of circumstances.
The Philip K. Dick Novel “Adjustment Team”, on which the film is based, proposed the idea of predestination in conflict with free will, against the backdrop of 1950s America, frozen in the grip of a Cold War and mired in all the crime-thriller clichés and “Mad-Men” era politics that go with it. The original plot had Ed Fletcher, a happily married realtor, co-operate in a divine plan to bring about the end of the Cold War after his path is ever so slightly “adjusted” by team of angels.
The idea of “adjustments” by an unseen creative power to keep things running according to a particular “plan”, is uncannily appropriate when we consider that the most recognisable aspect of the Philip K. Dick novel to survive George Nolfi’s plan/adaptation seems to be a few rather fetching fedoras and some meaty theology. As it is, The Adjustment Bureau provides an opportunity for the audience to chew on some pretty meaty themes.
Divine providence, fate, free will, chance, all are up for discussion, so as a platform for theological debate? Yeah, it’s a thumbs up.
As a decent Sci-fi/Adventure/Romance? Not so much.
The trouble with The Adjustment Bureau is that it knows what it wants to achieve and how it wants to go about it, but the film falters under the weight of its ideas and inevitably fails to articulate them well. Nolfi stands on the shoulders of the genre-definers that went before him, such as The Matrix and Inception, clearly influenced by both of these films, but doesn’t bring anything original to the table.
Nolfi’s aim is indeed ambitious, but his reach is too short. Instead of being challenged by the question of whether or not we are in control of our own destiny, which Dick’s source material proposed, the audience come away feeling bemused and rather short changed after some half-hearted, lukewarm theological assertions and an unimaginative ending.
That said, you have to admire Nolfi for giving it a good go with such an assured debut, and it’s refreshing to see a film with a bit of depth to it, at least by Hollywood standards. With The Adjustment Bureau, Nolfi planned to give us a thoughtful and thought -provoking take on an interesting idea for a film, which would keep us guessing right to the end. Who knows, with a few adjustments, he just might have done it.
Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity.