On those really bad days, it can feel like the world is conspiring against you. Everything wrong that can happen all just seems to fit itself into a very short time frame. Well, what if there were certain forces at work that made sure that things go a particular way? Based on a Philip K. Dick story, ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ examines that very possibility.
David Norris (Matt Damon) is a Congressman from New York who runs an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat. Before he makes his concession speech, he meets a young woman in the men’s bathroom named Elise (Emily Blunt). For whatever reason, there is an undeniable chemistry between the two. Since she had crashed a wedding on another floor, security quickly chases her away, and out of David’s life.
A month later, David is on his way to his new job when he runs into Elise again, this time on the bus. He discovers that she is a dancer, gets her number and they part ways. Unbeknownst to David, there is a man named Harry (Anthony Mackie) who was supposed to make sure that David spilled his coffee and missed the bus so he wouldn’t see Elise. Oops. On to plan B.
David arrives at the office to find his coworkers in a frozen state, with their minds being altered by men in suits and what appears to be riot gear. David does the logical thing and runs like heck. Resistance is futile, and he is apprehended. He wakes up in a warehouse and officially meets a man called Richardson (John Slattery). This is where Richardson explains that he, Harry, and many others work at something called The Adjustment Bureau. This agency works that make sure that everything happens according to some already determined plan that was drawn up by ‘The Chairman.’ Richardson takes Elise’s phone number from David and burns it. If David ever tells anyone about The Adjustment Bureau, they will come for him and ‘reset’ his mind. He is also forbidden to ever see Elise again. They are not supposed to be together.
You didn’t think David would give up that easily, did you? Geez. You don’t know Matt Damon very well.
Philip K. Dick novels are very popular choices for film adaptations. These movies have varied wildly in terms of quality. You have your great ones (‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Minority Report’), your outright flops (‘Paycheck’ and ‘Next’) and then you have some that were the source of debate (‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘Total Recall’). Personally, this examiner loved ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and is utterly indifferent toward ‘Total Recall’, but both films have their share of fans and detractors. ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ will likely fall into the last category for reasons that will hopefully become clear by the end of this review.
Really, the story boils down to characters who refuse to accept the lives that fate has chosen for them. Who wouldn’t root for someone who has such an uphill battle?
The coolest visual from this film is the frequently utilized opening of a door that leads to another part of the city. It’s a simple enough little trick, but you will remember it. Well, that and Matt Damon running. He runs almost as much in this as he did for ‘Invictus.’
Part of the secret to enjoying this movie is to realize that this is really a dramatic romance with science fiction and theological elements (if you want to look at it that way). The chases aren’t really as action-packed as you might imagine. The stakes are high, though and some suspense works its way into the equation.
While it might seem like the Agents are the clear villains, and they are the antagonists, but whether they are truly ‘bad’ is up to the viewer. Actually, it’s just like Jason Priestley’s role in ‘Tru Calling.‘ Is it wrong to make sure that things happen according to the plan of a higher power (however one defines this higher power)? Harry is the Agent with an extraordinary amount of empathy, but his coworkers don’t do what they do because it’s personal. It’s their job. They think they are doing what is best for humanity. I could quote Star Trek about, ‘The needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few’ and the response to that being something to the effect of ‘You have much to learn about being human.’ You get the idea. Our emotions and desires can override our sense of logic, but that is what makes us human.
A supplemental reason is given for David and Elise’s attraction at one point in the story, but without that, it would be difficult to fathom their bond which endures against such great odds. It initially seems like love at first sight, which would just be lazy storytelling. If you’re willing to accept the reason that the narrative gives you, then you’re fine, but their bathroom encounter just seems too fleeting to amount to anything significant. They just seem to be in love because the story demands it, which is actually part of the point so it’s hard to be overly critical about that.
It seems as though things get resolved too neatly by the end. The constant buildup and inevitable climax feels like it should amount to a bit more than it actually does. It can be great to avoid spelling certain things out for people and to allow a certain level of interpretation for the audience, but aren’t we owed a little more payoff than what we get? One way of thinking of ‘the Chairman’ could help to explain the Deus ex machina style resolution.
Special features include: deleted/extended scenes, an exploration of locations in New York, David and Elise’s relationship, a look at the dance training that Emily Blunt endured to land the part, and commentary.
‘The Adjustment Bureau’ will throw a lot of people off with a preview that hints at loads of action and a fast pace. The story certainly isn’t ponderous, it’s reasonably brisk, but this is set in modern times and there isn’t too much as far as traditional science fiction action. There is more emphasis on romance, drama and most importantly, free will. Knowing that going in will probably allow you to enjoy this even more than I did. All in all, a respectable entry. It’s miles ahead of the ‘bad’ adaptations, but not on the same level as the best ones. There will be some discussion about where it belongs which would probably be fine with the author.
Instead of the ‘Total Recall’ remake that is due out in the near future, this examiner would like to see adaptations of ‘Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said,’ ‘A Maze of Death’ (though the ending to that book was a bit of a cop-out) and maybe ‘Ubik.’ Philip K. Dick has such a long list of work to choose from, he will continue to resonate in the film world for many years to come.
Rated PG-13 107 minutes 2011