The Adjustment Bureau – A Review
The Adjustment Bureau – Dir: George Nolfi; *ing: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp
It’s the age-old question – no, not ‘who let the dogs out?’, the other one, about whether we forge our paths based on free will or just meander along paths that are pre-determined by the hands of fate. Do we actually choose anything in life or is everything already chosen for us, with only the outward appearance of command over one’s destiny? The latter would certainly be a better explanation for such abominations as comb-overs, blue mascara and Justin Bieber, but other questions would remain, like if there is already a ‘plan’, who is its architect, and, more importantly, can anyone flout the plan, and what happens if they do?
Such are the ideas explored in The Adjustment Bureau, a stylish thriller based on a short story by literary cult deity Philip K. Dick, whose preoccupation with socio-political and metaphysical themes filtered through a sci-fi lens has provided great fodder for Hollywood on numerous occasions in the past: Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, and of course Ridley Scott’s dystopian masterpiece Blade Runner. Here again, the movie machine puts the source story through the Chinese Whispers wringer so that the finished film bears only a passing resemblance to the original piece; the premise is intact, though characters and plot have been tinkered with considerably.
Continuing the author’s deployment of shady authoritarian corporations and individuals experiencing altered states as major story elements, the movie tells of the predicament faced by rising politician David Norris (Damon) when he accidentally gets a peek inside the magician’s millinery prop and finds that it isn’t a rabbit in there, it’s a man, an army of men in fact, all belonging to the titular team in jaunty Bogart-era hats, whose job it is to make sure that the entire planet and its people function every minute of every day according to the Plan laid out by the unseen but all-powerful Chairman. The glitch in David’s fate is caused by chance, when he runs into beauteous ballerina Elise (Blunt) and combustible chemistry ensues – an unplanned anomalous event which causes the bureau to go into overdrive. He is not meant to be with Elise and is told in no uncertain terms by the Adjusters that he is to stay away from her or else. But what is ‘or else’ in the face of true love? David defies the order even as he is chased and harangued by the enigmatic figures who have seemingly limitless powers, including folding time and space.
With the blinding sparks between Damon and Blunt that set the screen alight, it’s nigh impossible to not root for the pair to stick it to the Man. And that’s one of the main things that sets The Adjustment Bureau apart from Inception, the movie it is most frequently compared to: at the heart of it, this is actually an old-fashioned romance merely masquerading as high-concept sci-fi, where love fights to overcome and conquer all obstacles, no matter how mind-bending in nature. That realization certainly helps one appreciate Nolfi’s deft and nuanced touch as a director; he neither wastes time ‘explaining’ everything to boredom-induced coma (thus, also, keeping the film from falling apart at the seams of needless detail, despite obvious loopholes), nor does he sacrifice story for bombast, instead demonstrating his contention that sometimes a simple cutaway is far more effective and meaningful than a boom-a-second special effects bender. Not that there aren’t dazzling effects aplenty, but they’re employed in such a wizened economical way so as to as constitute a tall, cool glass of WTF instead of causing eye sores and pierced eardrums.
The Adjustment Bureau may not exactly answer that age-old question but it should certainly give you pause the next time something seems like too much of a coincidence. Or when you need to explain that mullet hairdo in your graduation picture.