MOVIE REVIEW: The Adjustment Bureau


When most people see renowned author Phillip K. Dick's name attached to a movie, the presumption is that trippy science fiction is soon to follow.  His adapted works have turned into big-time hits like Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report, along with other features like Paycheck, Imposter, A Scanner Darkly, and Next.  When you think of those films, you very likely envision apocalyptic or very unique, mind-bending visions of the not-too-distant future and how man's primal instinct to survive and have a place in society interacts with that setting.

Two of the last things that likely come to mind are non-violence and romance, which right away put the new release, The Adjustment Bureau, into a transcendent new category for Phillip K. Dick film adaptations, and a pleasant one. In this film, you won't see a single firearm or murderous villain.  Surprised?  So was this reviewer.

Politician David Norris (Academy Award winner Matt Damon, back in his charm mode) is rehearsing his concession speech in a hotel bathroom after losing his 2006 bid at the U.S. Senate seat for the state of New York.  There, hiding in a stall, he meets an enchanting, beautiful woman (the sexy Emily Blunt), whom he strikes up great conversation with.  The chance meeting fuels his honesty and their mutual attraction.  They share a kiss and David goes out and delivers a refreshingly unscripted and honest speech, after encouragement from the woman to do so.

He never sees her again that night and years pass.  David's speech changes his image and makes him a favorite in the 2010 election, when chance strikes again.  He gets on a bus one day and who's sitting asleep next to an open seat, but the same woman from that night years ago.  They meet again and reconnect their attraction.  Her name is Elise, she's a ballet dancer, and they exchange numbers and more flirting with the hope of this time seeing each other again.

However, this wasn't supposed to happen.  David was supposed to be stopped and miss that bus.  Elise was supposed to ride right by.  The "plan" got changed and now there are repercussions.  David discovers what ends up being a far bigger picture, namely, the Adjustment Bureau.  You see, his life has a grander plan and Elise is not part of it and can't be part of it.  They were only supposed to meet once.  He is shown that there are forces and "caseworkers" watching over him that control the moments of his life.  That plan is written and overseen by the unseen "Chairman," making sure that the path never diverges.  If needed, the caseworkers in fedoras act to guide chance from happening.

David is essentially clued into this behind the curtain operation and told to not pursue or see Elise again or reveal the existence of the Adjustment Bureau.  The question becomes whether David heeds these warnings and follows the path laid out for a special and bright future or invokes the free will to pursue true love.  The Adjustment Bureau, with that turmoil, is a fascinating allegory for entertaining the debate between fate and free will.  Can David just let it go?  What happens if chance strikes and they meet again?  What would happen if they stayed together?  Could he rewrite his "plan" or get inside help?

Those implications and life choices create more than enough intrigue and suspense to pleasantly not require violence in the film.  You will love the use of doors in this film, creating quite a unique chase picture when it's all said and done.  Because of the romance, the film carries a surprisingly bubbly, almost Meet Joe Black tone, when the ever-present deeper themes still preside over the story.

For the audience, that either works for you or doesn't.  Many were probably expecting a moody and dark science fiction drama with the ominous power overhead pushing our characters down. The Adjustment Bureau, with a different musical score and different pace could have easily been that imposing movie, but it didn't turn out that way.  It stayed light and it refreshingly works.

The charm and chemistry between Damon and Blunt is outstanding, and carries the film's light tone.  They are one of the best screen couples of the last decade and you really root for them.  It's nice to see the Matt Damon again that sweet-talks therapists in The Departed and college girls in Good Will Hunting.  He doesn't need to be Jason Bourne in this one and it's a mature part for him.  Emily Blunt is a great match for him and the so-called "villains" in the form of Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and Terrance Stamp really aren't villains at all.  As aforementioned, it was a surprise not to see a (no pun intended with the theology present) hell-bent pursuer.

Speaking of that theology and deeper tones, the religious symbolism and non-specific labels that are created to define guardians, angels, deities, fate, and chance will no doubt strike internal thought and external discussion and debate about what you think happens in real life with The Adjustment Bureau's themes.  Because of that, it's a fascinating movie that, much like Matt Damon's last movie Hereafter and it musings and symbolism of the afterlife from Clint Eastwood, won't completely move you to pieces, but stick in your head enough to really make you think afterwards.  Those are fun movie experiences.

LESSON #1:  EVERYONE HAS A LIFE PLAN RULED BY FATE-- People have long echoed the fateful sayings "God has a plan for you" or "Everything happens for a reason."  Is our life our own choice or is there a puppet(s) pulling the strings and nudging us in the right direction? The Adjustment Bureau dances with the idea that everyone has a planned path through life.  However, the opposite side of this belief is equally well-represented and becomes the next lesson.

LESSON #2:  THERE IS SUCH A THING AS CHANCE AND FREE WILL-- This will sound completely contrary to the first lesson, but you can't talk about one without the other.  For everyone that strongly believes in a plan and fate for themselves, there are plenty of people that don't and strongly see life as free will and chance. The film is populated with characters that seek and believe the opposite of fate.  The desire of free will and the twists of chance drive them to go against the plan presented before them.  This tag-team match debate will leave your brain sprinting long after the credits roll.

LESSON #3:  THE SACRIFICES PEOPLE ARE WILLING TO MAKE FOR LOVE-- No matter who you are and what you stand for, whether it's the side that believes in a plan and fate or the one favoring free will and chance, you are willing to make big sacrifices for the ones you love.  You will fight.  You will run.  You will go against your normal beliefs. You will sacrifice friendships and careers.  You will even be willing to give your life to be with the one you love.  That decision or commitment to sacrifice is universal, regardless of the ever-present big debate and what side you believe.