The Adjustment Bureau

Let’s start this blog off with something relatively recent. The Adjustment Bureau was released in theatres in March 2011, and a few short months later, YouTube put it up in their movie offerings. Early on, it was available for free, which is where I found it in August. I had only just discovered YouTube’s offerings, and was frankly surprised to see something that current offered for free. It’s no longer free, but you can still rent a digital viewing if you choose to do so… and my recommendation is that you do.

The Adjustment Bureau is based off of the short story “Adjustment Team”, written by science-fiction author Philip K. Dick. For a writer of science fiction, Philip K. Dick seems to be very popular with Hollywood screenwriters. 11 of his stories have been adapted into films, and IMDB shows more on the way in the near future. Some of the better known films adapted from Dick’s work include Minority Report, Total Recall, and of course, Blade Runner. As with most of Dick’s stories, the screenwriters for The Adjustment Bureau mainly took the high concept from the story to weave their own tale; and also as with most of Dick’s stories, that high concept is pure paranoia fuel.

The movie stars Matt Damon as David Norris, a would-be senator who has just blown the election through having some immature photos come to light. Preparing his concession speech, he encounters Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a party crasher hiding in the men’s room where he’s practicing. Hitting it off with Elise, they share some conversation and a kiss, and he’s inspired to throw away his prepared speech, and when he gives his public concession, he starts talking about all the things he had to do on the campaign trail that were prepared by his staff, starting with how even his tie wasn’t his own choice. The refreshing honesty of the speech captures the public’s heart, and while David will be spending the next few years as a consultant, he’s already a clear favorite for the next election.

On the way to his new job the next day, David runs into Elise again on the bus. He spills his drink on her, she gives him her number, your standard romantic comedy situation ensues. But soon after the paranoia fuel starts in; while this was happening, a man was dozing on a park bench. Waking up, the man realizes he’s missed his window of opportunity and attempts to fix things, but it’s too late. David arrives at his office in time to see his current boss and former campaign manager, Charlie Traynor, being “adjusted”. Panicking, David runs, but is caught by the adjusters and taken to a warehouse where they explain their job.

The Adjustment Bureau, as they call themselves, serve the Chairman (strongly implied to be God, though these guys aren’t entirely angels). They adjust peoples’ actions and surrounding events so that their fates play out according to the grand plan. It’s subtle, a mental nudge here and there, but it’s still changing peoples’ actions. The man on the park bench, Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), is David’s caseworker, and was supposed to delay him enough to make him miss the bus — thus delaying him long enough to not witness Charlie’s “adjustment”, and also causing him to not meet Elise again. The leader of the present group of adjusters, Richardson, explains that Elise was meant to only inspire him for that moment, and was not part of David’s life plan. He takes the phone number, burns it, and tells David that he will never see Elise again. He further tells him that if he tells anybody about the Bureau, he will be “reset” — his mind wiped, leaving him a raving lunatic.

Three years pass, and David is on top of the world again, when one of the cosmic coincidences the movie runs on causes him to run into Elise again. He decides he can’t stand the idea of not trying to have a life with her, and they begin dating. At this point, the Bureau brings out their big gun, Thompson, played masterfully by Terence Stamp. Thompson begins showing David the futility of fighting against the plan, as well as explaining just why he and Elise can’t be together. But despite everything, David can’t keep away, and begins fighting against his proscribed fate. With help from Harry, who wants to atone for some of the darker things he’s done to guide David’s path, David starts defying the adjusters and trying to find a way to be together with Elise.

The Adjustment Bureau poses several questions to the audience about the conflict between destiny and free will. How do you fight fate, or an opponent that can cause “random” accidents on a whim and knows where you are at all times? Can fate be changed? Can there be more than one master plan? And how far would you go to live life on your own terms? The Adjustment Bureau addresses all of these skillfully, and transitions seamlessly from drama to action with just a touch of science fiction. I heartily recommend this movie.

Rating: 4 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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9 Responses to The Adjustment Bureau

  1. I enjoyed this movie, but, as it seems, less than you. Good review!

    • morganrlewis says:

      I’ll admit, I might well be more favorable to this movie than a lot of people, since I really enjoy Philip K. Dick as an “idea man” for movies. I even liked Paycheck reasonably well, and that’s a movie that got blasted pretty heavily. But that’s the great thing about movies; plenty of room for different degrees of enjoyment. Glad you liked the review!

  2. You know? I haven’t seen it yet, and most of the reviews I’ve read so far have been lukewarm… this was the first good one.

    So I’ll put it back on my “to see list” when it pops up on cable…

    As far as Phillip K Dick movies, I also really like “A Scanner Darkly”. I think the rotoscoping turned a lot of people off, but I love that flick.

    • morganrlewis says:

      Yeah, I think you’re right about the rotoscoping turning people off. In my case, I stayed away because I read the novel, and while I thought it was very well done, I didn’t want to go back to that particular well. That is one bleak story.

  3. filmdrivel says:

    I enjoyed the set-up and thought it was a pretty interesting idea, but by the end i’d lost interest. You’re right though it does pose some good questions. Good review, hadn’t been on you blog before but i’ll definitely be back. Good to have some books and music thrown in as well.

    • Glad to have you aboard! I can see how The Adjustment Bureau might have lost some people towards the end. It did seem like it went on a bit longer than it really needed to. It didn’t bother me much, but I can see it bothering others.

  4. Pingback: One Year Down | Morgan on Media

  5. Nice first review! I loved the concept of this movie, but it just fell flat for me.

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