Over the last three decades Hollywood has never been shy of looking back to the works of legendary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick for inspiration for big budget, big spectacle movies. The results vary from the good (Blade Runner, Minority Report) to the not-so-good (Paycheck, Next) but no matter what the results Hollywood just keeps mining Dick’s bibliography for new movies. The latest is The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon as a man with a plan, but the only trouble is he doesn’t want to follow it.
Damon plays David Norris, a politician running for the United States Senate. One day, seemingly by chance, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), whom he instantly feels a connection to. The next day he (by chance?) meets her again on a bus, continuing to connect with her, eventually getting her phone number. However, little did Norris know he was never supposed to see Elise again after their first “chance” meeting. He is soon confronted with a team of suit-and-hat-wearing men (played by the likes of Mad Men’s John Slattery and The Hurt Locker’s Anthony Mackie) who reveal their job is go monitor the whole world and make sure everyone’s life is going, “according to plan.” Unfortunately for him he was never supposed to see Elise again. David then tries to do everything he can do be with her, despite everything the Bureau put in his way.
This intriguing and unique premise is enough to warrant a viewing but luckily the film has its fair share of excitement, believable romance and admirable, if not entirely fully fleshed out, explorations of life’s great unanswered questions to make it worthwhile pretty much all the way through.
The most basic question it deals with is: are we living our lives according to our own choices, our free will, or are our lives pre-determined with only the illusion of free will presented to us? It’s a timeless question but, perhaps most importantly, that question displayed in a sleek, entertaining way. Each fresh question and mystery which crops up may not be answered in the best way (there is a bit too much needless exposition) but at least they are presented intelligently and invite you to fill in the blanks in a way that doesn’t feel like you’ve been cheated.
The film may just be one of the most grossly mismarketed movies of the last few years. The posters and trailers try to sell it as “Bourne meets Inception” which may lead to some people thinking they’ve walked into the wrong auditorium. It’s understandable from a studio and marketing point of view to compare to the film to such hits as the Bourne franchise or the phenomenally successful Inception but it makes no sense for the actual movie. The Adjustment Bureau is at its heart a love story and elegantly explores the idea that two people are meant to be together. It’s not an idea the cynics out there will take to (the type of hard thinking people who usually enjoy the sci-fi/fantasy genre) but it’s presented with such conviction and gusto that it’s hard not to be swept up by it.
The believability of the central romance is help hugely by the two leads, played by the ever-reliable Matt Damon and rising Hollywood star Emily Blunt. The trouble with a lot of other on-screen romances is that the two people in question rarely have any genuine chemistry and therefore the dialogue they deliver – professing their love for each other and whatnot – isn’t authentic. Thankfully that isn’t the case here. Damon and Blunt have terrific chemistry that really grounds their relationship when all of this crazy, fantastical stuff is going on around them.
Along with the convincing romance and often fascinating mystery, director Goerge Nolfi (making his directorial debut after writing such films as The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean’s Twelve) chooses to employ some visual trickery to enrich the film’s world. The most notable of which is the jumping to different locations within the city just by opening a door a certain way (one of the “powers” the members of The Adjustment Bureau are given in order to carry out their work). It gives you something interesting to look at while you keep up with, and making up your own mind about, the mysteries at hand.
What could have been a project with an interesting premise that falls flat on his face upon delivery turns out to be an engrossing and genuinely intriguing thriller with a romance at the centre that you can not only believe in but really root for. Undoubtedly the questions the film raises about fate vs. free will, order versus chaos, are way bigger than the movie can explore to the fullest extent. However, the film can be admired and applauded for giving it not just a fair shot but for delivering something so entertaining.