The Adjustment Bureau

8 03 2011


It is human nature to expect a reason behind the events that go on around us. We inevitably thank (or blame) the world for those things that are outside of our control, like when we trip over a rock on the sidewalk, causing us to miss a bus, which then drives off a cliff.

Is there some higher power controlling these seemingly minute details? The Adjustment Bureau reinforces this belief by arguing that everything in the world is controlled by a single, mysterious organization.

We’re introduced to David (Matt Damon) as a young, up and coming politician whose career has just been derailed by the release of an embarrassing college photo. His downward spiral is suddenly halted when he meets a beautiful young woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) in a hotel bathroom.

Unfortunately, there are forces at work in the world which were supposed to prevent David and Elise from ever meeting one another. These forces are the agents of the Adjustment Bureau, who must do everything in their power to ensure that the two never meet again.

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt's chemistry carries The Adjustment Bureau

In a feat of random chance, Elise and David end up meeting on the bus a few days later. In the eyes of the Bureau, David has now gone ‘off plan’, which means that the results of his actions are completely unknown.

When the agents eventually confront David about this deviance, they insist that there will be unfortunate consequences if he and Elise continue to see each other and implore that he forgets about her. Like most people, David does not like being told what to do and, as a result, becomes consumed by his quest to find Elise.

However, David faces a serious uphill battle. How can he outsmart a group of people who can read his thoughts, observe his ‘decision tree’, and transform doorways into magical portals?

The answer is through David’s own ingenuity. When the Bureau expects him to use a telephone to discover the location of Elise’s dance company, they shut down all communications within a four-block radius. Instead, David runs into a crowded café and asks the customers if they had ever been to a show at that particular dance studio. When one man responds, David has his answer.

The enigma that is the Adjustment Bureau is the most interesting part of the movie. One agent admits to David that they have been called angels in the past, but they should be viewed more like case officers who “live a lot longer than humans.”

The Bureau also claims responsibility for both the highs and lows of human history. They were actively managing our decision-making when we built the Roman Empire, or landed on the moon, but had stepped away during the Dark Ages, the Holocaust, and both World Wars.

There are several mysterious limitations to the Bureau’s powers that, in the context of the movie, seem forced. For example, the presence of water disrupts the omniscient powers of the agents, while a magical hat must be worn at all times when traveling through the doorway portals.

When you take away the supernatural elements, The Adjustment Bureau is simply about the recklessness of love. There are plenty of movies where, for any number of reasons, two characters are forbidden from being with one another, but The Adjustment Bureau does a good job of making us actually care about David and Elise’s relationship. This is due in large part to the chemistry between Damon and Blunt.

It may not be as mind-bending as Inception, but it is nearly as intriguing. The idea that an agency of well-dressed men in bowler hats can control human history is unique, to say the least. I appreciate the originality, but The Adjustment Bureau falls just short of its lofty ambitions.