Writer/director George Nolfi utilizes his brilliantly crafted script as a vehicle to explore the long-debated philosophical notions of free will and predestination. We’ve all pondered at one time or another whether our life is the sum and total of all the choices that we make or whether things unfold according to some sort of plan laid out for us. This film purports to resolve the conflict between the two schools of thought through an endless series of action-packed events woven tightly into a compelling love story.
The Adjustment Bureau, based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team”, is a blend of action and mind-bending science fiction. The thrilling action sequences are the hard candy coating to the soft, sweet romance that is the core of the film. David Morris (Matt Damon) is a young congressional candidate, whose electrifying chance encounter with the beautiful but quirky Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in a men’s room proves to be the catalyst for a 1 hour and 39 minute long battle against fate. As a result of a slip up by one of the “adjusters,” whose job it is to orchestrate events to ensure that everyone’s lives progress according to plan, David, who is never supposed to see Elise again, encounters her on a bus, thus beginning an exciting adventure showcasing some amazing New York City locations.
The script is refreshingly original and breathes depth into a movie industry riddled with superficial, surface storytelling. Following in the tradition of films that drawn upon weighty, philosophical subject matter to illuminate a thought inspiring story such as Inception, which depicts a team of people who by entering the dreams of others and implanting ideas into their subconscious are able to control their actions, and The Butterfly Effect, which follows the different present day scenarios that result from traveling back in time and changing a past occurrence, this movie is able to cleverly examine the implications of not being in control of one’s own destiny and having a team of people in charge of managing the trajectory of one’s life.
In a turn akin to The Great and Powerful Oz being revealed to Dorothy as a meek old man with a microphone, the curtain here is pulled back to reveal to David that his decisions are meaningless because the events of his life are dictated and managed by the “adjusters.” Despite feeling that he belongs with Elise, it is not part of the plan and therefore cannot be. Once equipped with this knowledge, David, unwilling to acquiesce to life without Elise, attempts to defy the plan, outwit the “adjusters” and be with the one that he loves. It just goes to show you that sometimes even fate needs a nudge.
Matt Damon and Emily Blunt’s onscreen chemistry sizzles. Damon’s portrayal of heartache over the threat of losing a love that was never meant to be is both delicate and endearing. Emily Blunt shines brightly in this understated performance, injecting moments of humorous brilliance into an otherwise serious film. The witty banter between the two lovers provides a necessary balance between the thrilling action that drives the movie and the touching sensibility that the romantic aspect of the film requires. Additionally, Terence Stamp delivers an eerily chilling performance as Thompson, the unsympathetic “adjustment bureau” foil to Damon’s good guy romantic.
With scenes that include vantage points from within the outfield of Yankee Stadium and from the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, the movie is a visually stunning epic. Action sequences and effects, such as those in the car crash scene and the final chase scene, coupled with the fast paced location transitions provide heart-pounding thrill-a-minute excitement at times. The action is, however, beautifully juxtaposed to elegant dancing scenes and whimsical fits of tender romance.
Though the whole movie supports the notion that predestination exists, it is then undermined by the movie’s conclusion in which David and Elise are granted the freedom to be together. This is the one thing that I take issue with. While I realize that for the two characters to end up together, thus providing the happy Hollywood ending that we have all come to expect, it is necessary for free will to win out over predestination. However, it appears that this is an exception being made in this one particular instance, therefore, not truly resolving the conflict at issue. Rather, this revision of the plan to adhere to the wishes of David and Elise, when presumably everyone else’s lives will remain predetermined, creates inconsistency and chaos. Does this mean that the system of planning lives will be abolished entirely or will it continue on as before, but include a loop hole for those stubborn and intelligent enough to fight for free will?
Despite the temptation to over analyze the ramifications of allowing free will to trump predestination in the end, The Adjustment Bureau is a heart wrenching love story which is well crafted and well acted enough to give credibility to an otherwise implausible plot. The excellent concept and great script lend itself to an overall very good movie. It’s thrilling storyline and romance are sure to keep you entertained.