There are too many films that deal with existential dilemmas which provide a viewing experience that is more work than pleasure. The most notable films are those written by Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich) and while they have their purpose they are by no means relaxing films. Sometimes it is nice to have a thriller that is fun but also has a story with some depth. This is exactly what The Adjustment Bureau is going for. It’s good to just sit back and enjoy a thriller once and a while (which may be a taboo thought for snobby film critics).
Matt Damon stars as David Norris, a young bad-boy congressman running for a senate seat in New York. He was raised in Brooklyn and has a long history of unpredictability. Regardless, he has overcome many things in order to become the youngest elected congressman (at 24) and is now working his way up the ranks. After losing an election he meets a girl, Elise (Emily Blunt), who was hiding in the men’s restroom. The two have an interesting conversation and appear to really connect. David can’t wait to see her again.
The problem is that the two are not meant to see each other after the first meeting. Elise’s purpose was to motivate David to give a truly authentic concession speech that will make him one of the most popular senate candidates during the next election cycle. As chance would have it, David runs into Elise again and finds out that the two not seeing each other again for years was not simply bad luck. The two are not meant to be together and the Adjustment Bureau will do anything they can to make sure they never see each other again.
The bureau is made up of what appears to be regular men, though they have certain powers (or stronger senses) and live longer than normal humans. These men show they have lived for a long time by the way they dress, which is complete with plaid overcoats and fedoras (they look like 1940s private detectives). They are the ones responsible for every human to make sure they continue the life path chosen for them. If anyone strays from the plan, the Bureau will take action and force small situations to create major changes (something as small as missing a taxi could change your life).
One film The Adjustment Bureau reminded me of was The Truman Show in the way that some characters know they are being watched or even controlled. However, The Adjustment Bureau is a romantic thriller while The Truman Show is more of a character study. David is like Truman because each of them could use free will but were ultimately controlled by outside sources. The difference is that in The Adjustment Bureau only a select few know they are being watched and David decides to fight back against it (much like Truman did at the end of The Truman Show).
Members of the bureau can be seen as metaphorical angels, making sure every person stays in their correct life path. However, they are not guardian angels because not all paths are positive. All we know is that each path is pre-decided by a higher power which we never see (an obvious deity of some kind). One thing I appreciated about this film is the way it never dove off the hyper sci-fi cliff and easily could have. The focus remains on David, we only learn just enough about the bureau to understand that they can intervene in ways we would never notice unless we walked into a scene like David did.
The films deals with fate and forces us to think about the small things we do that may have greater impact than we think. Little events such as a spilled drink or a lost signal on our smartphone may actually be an important occurrence. Taking on such ideas can get weighty and turn into an existential headache but this film avoids the Kaufmanesque turn and keeps it simple and fun. After all, people are still trying to get their heads around Inception. The nice thing about The Adjustment Bureau is that you can take from it what you want. If a deeper reading is your thing, the elements are there for it. If you would rather sit back and enjoy a thriller without thinking, you can probably coast through this one without getting confused.
The Adjustment Bureau is written and directed by George Nolfi in his first time sitting as director. He is previously known for writing films such as Oceans Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum. Nolfi’s latest film is at least par with the rest of his films, possibly better since this time he is directing his own material. Some early reviews wrote this film off as a weak love story but it’s really a fun way to look at fate. There is more to this film if you want to read into it, but it’s not forced upon you. The Adjustment Bureau is ends up being a fun ride that is worth taking.