The Adjustment Bureau is more interesting than it’s trailer would have you believe. (Why this seems to be the case for more than few movies now a days is a one of those questions that will drive me crazy if I really think about it.) It involves a politician, played by Matt Damon, who discovers that reality is actually being controlled by some serious looking men in suits. He catches them in the act of freezing a room full of people to perform some sort of creepy actions on them, and suddenly he knows what he isn’t supposed to know. Now if this sounds like Dark City, or even the Matrix, that’s because there are definite similarities. I’ll give the film credit though, it ended up going a different direction that I expected and ended up much more interesting because of it.
Minor spoilers to follow!
The interesting part is that after discovering The Adjustment Bureau (as they call themselves) Damon’s character David Norris does not spend the rest of the movie running away from them trying to avoid capture. In fact, after initially holding him for only a few hours to assess the situation, they let him go with two conditions, on which the rest of the movie is based. Number one is that he can never reveal their existence to another person, or they will take the extreme measure of erasing his mind, turning him into a vegetable for the rest of his life. The second is that he can never again see Elise (Emily Blunt) because those two being together is “not part of the plan”. Elise is of course a woman Norris just met and is quite smitten with.
The film then follows the events of Norris’s life for the next six YEARS. In that time we learn more about the Bureau itself, why exactly he can’t be with Elise, and that despite the obstacles, Norris and Elise indeed have a very strong connection. The trailer pegs this as an action film, but it most definitely isn’t. There are some action scenes yes, but this is much more the drama of a man living with knowledge nobody else has, or ever even could have. The Bureau itself was my favorite part of the movie, because it turns out the these men in suits are not just mindless servants. One of them, Harry (Anthony Mackie) , even takes a liking to Damon’s character with the two forming a friendship, of sorts, despite Harry being clear that he isn’t even human.
The cast does an excellent job, Damon and Mackie in particular. I’ll admit, despite Damon being the star power, I was most impressed with Mackie. He was brilliant in The Hurt Locker and though he has less to do here, shows incredible range from that film to this one. He’s a truly talented actor, and he seems like a likeable guy! Check out this clip of Hurt Locker winning Best Picture at the Oscars, and watch his reaction at 37 seconds in.
Emily Blunt fairs well as Elise in a REALLY difficult role, considering while Damon and Mackie get to do all the science fiction discussions, she has to live in the real world. Her and Damon have good chemistry and make it believable that Damon would take the risks he does just to be with her. Terrence Stamp makes an impression as Thompson, a high ranking official within the Bureau, who gets called in after Richardson (John Slattery) fails to fully fix the problem Damon poses to them. Slattery is also excellent and reinforces the notion that I really should probably be watching Mad Men.
The film isn’t afraid to confront some very weighty issues, most notably religion and free will. At one point Norris even asks Harry, “Are you guys angels? to which he responds with “We’ve been called that.” Multiple references to “The Chairman” abound, and to me it very much sounded like an idea of God, although not in a traditionally religious sense. The Bureau is depicted as a large corporation that exists outside of known reality, but they are most certainly not all-powerful. Anything they do to influence humanity causes what they refer to as “ripples” and they’re bound to actually fill out tons of paper work and get permission from higher-ups before influencing anything in a dramatic way. I appreciated that the movie stayed calm for a large portion to deal with such issues, it made the action (at the end especially) feel EARNED rather than just eye candy because that’s what people like.
I would recommend The Adjustment Bureau to fans of science fiction or love stories, which aren’t genres that manage to cross over into each others territory with any success very often. It’s a well acted thriller that kept my interest throughout. Damon as a politician is an almost natural role given his screen presence, and it even gives an excuse to put him on The Daily Show in the film, so a Jon Stewart cameo is always welcome. It also manages to be science fiction with almost zero special effects, which is a nice trick now a days. Don’t let the trailers fool you, this is more drama than an action, and deserves that level of attention from the audience.