Can one outrun one’s fate? The Adjustment Bureau answers that question quite literally. Based on the short story “The Adjustment Team” by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, the film is a sci-fi-tinged romance not unlike Gattaca or Code 46 in its ethos, and despite its fairly gravitas subject matter, it is incredibly entertaining and captivating in its human angle.
Matt Damon stars as a rising political star/Senator candidate David Norris, whose chance encounter with a contemporary modern dancer Elise [Emily Blunt], sets him on an inexorable path. Elise’s character is instantly lovable—she is irreverent, ebullient, and free-spirited. David has a reputation for being a “loose cannon,” but under her influence, he loosens up instead. So, their romance begins until David encounters the men of the Adjustment Bureau, who tell him, “You peeked behind a curtain you weren’t supposed to know exists.” Apparently, it is not according to the “plan” for David and Elise to be together. Even though the plausibility of the level of ardor they have for each from just a few encounters requires a leap of faith, both Damon and Blunt play their roles perfectly and their on-screen chemistry carries the storyline well. There are a couple of silly moments, such as when David is to be prevented from seeing Elise dance by the Adjustment Bureau because he will instantly fall in love with her if he does [gasp—he does], but these minor hiccups do not detract from the overall enjoyability of seeing their relationship grow.
Director George Nolfi’s [Ocean’s Eleven, The Bourne Ultimatum] portrayal of The Adjustment Bureau as fate’s company men is incredibly amusing and easily makes this movie worth seeing for that alone. The use of corporate speak—e.g. the higher being is “The Chairman,” “angels” are “case officers,” “briefcases” are interventions—is really clever and apt in building the mythology. The various adjustments, calibrations, and irregularities are very reminiscent of “glitch in the Matrix” motifs and accessible to the viewer [no elaborate sci-fi mumbo jumbo here]. The droll, English-men-like bureau men have serious jobs, but they certainly have a sense of humor. The dapper bureau men are powerful but not omnipotent—as Harry, one of the bureau’s men who comes to David’s aide explains, it’s all science. They have an interest in making sure humans do not screw up too much, but they cannot read their minds or watch everyone at all times and can only predict outcomes based on the percentage of weights options-ha! Therein lies David and Elise’s out—there is margin for irregularities, chance, and the big one, free will.
The Adjustment Bureau is a thrilling film with just the right mix of sci-fi plot elements and a strong human story—it is clever and funny, without being overbearingly technical or requiring extreme suspension of disbelief.