Sometimes with thrillers or dramas with romantic intrigue, we tend to feel they’re tacked on. In the case of The Adjustment Bureau, in a way it’s the opposite; it’s a romance with a thriller plot, a sci-fi one at that, tacked on; except in this case, the romantic plot and the sci-fi plot complement each other quite well. The romance grounds the more other worldly aspects of the film’s universe while the sci-fi elements raise the stakes for the romance as well as make it more poignant.
The story begins with Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon), who is running for governor of New York. Just as he seems set for victory, an unbecoming photo from the night he was elected congressman gets released. As he is practicing his concession speech in a bathroom, he meets a dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt). Within minutes of meeting they’re already making out! The next day David meets Elise again on the bus. She gives him her number. It’s like love at first sight for David, as well as a chance for a new beginning. The kicker is there are some people who don’t want them together. They’re called the Adjustment Bureau. They’re angels of sorts who work for the “Chairman.” “You know him by other names,” one of the angels, Harry (Anthony Mackie) tells David. Their job is make sure things go according to plan, which includes David and Elise not being together.
While David and Elise do seem to be attracted to each other almost too automatically, Damon and Blunt sell you on their relationship. They have an easy going chemistry while at the same time suggesting a deep attraction. I also liked Damon’s scenes with Mackie. Mackie, who also gave supporting turns in Half Nelson and The Hurt Locker, does a good job of suggesting someone otherworldly yet still capable of compassion. Harry is the only one in the Adjustment Bureau who genuinely wants to help David. John Slattery from Mad Men plays Richardson, another member of the Adjustment Bureau, and his understated and dry humour works for the cold and distance character he plays.
I like how it’s not revealed right away why these two people cannot be together. Unfortunately, when we get a little more insight in to the reason why, it’s a little too abstract, not rooted enough in anything definitive. I would have liked George Nolfi, the writer and director of the film, to have kept the reason abstract or, as one IMDber suggested, devised a really dynamic twist and kept it as a trump card for near the end. Ultimately, the film isn’t about the reason behind why David and Elise can’t be together so much as it about them being drawn together by faith, an ironic contrast to what the Adjustment Bureau are trying to do.
I think The Adjustment Bureau’s biggest fault comes with its ending. It’s a decent ending but it seems to come to easy and diminishes the ominousness of the Adjustment Bureau. It reminded me of the episode of The Simpsons where George H. Bush has to apologize to Homer for spanking Bart, thus eliminating his power.
The Adjustment Bureau calls attention to how much we take free will for granted and asks how far we’d go to actually fight for it if we realized how fragile it was. I wished the film dug a little deeper in to its religious undertones because I feel the thematic heart of the film lies with questions of God and how much control a God would have over our lives. Despite a few things I didn’t find as strong about The Adjustment Bureau, this is still a refreshingly original romantic thriller. I feel it genuinely makes us think about our notions of free will, how much we actually, have, and most importantly, how we use it.