These are the questions addressed in “The Adjustment Bureau,” a highly entertaining and thought-provoking romantic, science-fiction thriller starring Academy Award winner Matt Damon and Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt. Although the film certainly pushes the envelope of believability to the extreme, it offers plenty of mystery and tension complemented by an intense love story.
Based upon a short story titled “Adjustment Team,” which was written 57 years ago by Philip K. Dick, “The Adjustment Bureau” centers around Congressman David Norris (Damon), an incredibly popular young politician with the distinction of being the youngest congressmen ever elected to the House of Representatives. As the film opens, David has a commanding lead in the New York senatorial race.
But as is so often the case in politics these days, the media find something in David’s past that derails his campaign in a hurry. Because of a foolish, albeit harmless, mistake David made in his younger days, his bid for becoming a senator falls short at the last minute. Now we find him in the men’s room of the Waldorf Astoria, where he is mentally reviewing the concession speech he is about to deliver.
David thinks he is alone, and so you can imagine his surprise when a beautiful young woman emerges from one of the stalls. She explains that she is hiding from security because she had crashed a wedding reception. Her name is Elise Sellas, a ballerina on the brink of international stardom, and after the two of them talk for five minutes, they discover that they have a real connection. But then the security patrol arrives, and Elise rushes away before David can even get her phone number.
David and Elise don’t see each other until three years later when they happen to meet on a bus. Once again, the connection between the two of them is incredibly strong, and this time they don’t part until Elise gives David a card with her phone number on it.
Now while all of this is going on, we have been watching some mysterious men in fedoras following David around and constantly consulting small books they carry with them. David finds out who these guys are after his meeting with Elise when he walks into is boss’s office and discovers the men performing a strange procedure on him.
Despite his attempt to flee, the men chase David down, and Richardson (John Slattery), who is the group’s leader, explains that he and his cohorts are in control of his fate and that he is never to see Elise again, nor is he ever to reveal what he saw at his boss’s office.
Richardson says, “You’re seeing behind the curtain right now. You were never supposed to see this, but you have, and we’re going to have to ask you to not ever tell anybody about this…or we’re going to erase your brain.”
And when David asks Richardson what happened to free will, Richardson ominously replies, “You don’t have free will, David. What you have is the appearance of free will.”
Now David must decide whether to risk disobeying orders and having his brain “reset” in order to pursue his love for Elise or to forget about her and accept things as they are.
“The Adjustment Bureau” achieves a nice blend of mystery, drama, and romance in this story about a man who is willing to sacrifice everything for the woman he loves. Damon and Blunt are absolutely superb together, and they have the kind of chemistry that is so often missing between costars in a love story. Indeed there is an electricity between these two that you can see and feel the moment David and Elise meet each other in the men’s room. In the film’s production notes, Blunt explained the how this meeting fit in with the overall theme of the film.
“David and Elise’s first encounter is unusual. The romance and the spark of the scene are fought against the backdrop of sinks and toilets. It sets us up with the situation that you can’t help whom you’re attracted to, and you certainly can’t help the situations or environments in which you find yourself attracted to this person.”
In addition to conveying believably the instant attraction between David and Elise, Damon and Blunt succeed beautifully in making us care about their characters. Much of the film’s appeal and suspense are based upon the fact that we want the two characters to succeed in overcoming what their respective destinies are supposed to be.
As the key members of the Adjustment Bureau, Slattery, Terence Stamp, and Anthony Mackie are sufficiently sinister as they stalk around with their faces virtually expressionless beneath their matching fedoras. There’s no doubt that these guys take dictating the fate of people very seriously.
Although this was George Nolfi’s directorial debut, producer Chris Moore (“American Pie”) explained why he didn’t hesitate to join the novice director.
“I was interested in George’s take on what control we have over our own lives. I also loved that the material crosses a number of genres. There are thriller elements, action, and a great love story—as well as a personal crisis about what you believe in and who are you going to be. All that, plus a huge action movie about trying to outrun your Fate, is what popcorn movies are supposed to be.”
“The Adjustment Bureau” (It gets a score of 8 ½.) definitely is a good “popcorn” move, but I offer one word of warning. If you see a guy wearing a fedora lurking around when you leave theater, grab your date’s hand and run like hell.