We live in a society where there are laws that we must abide by; every citizen must live in accordance with the rights, privileges, and duties given. But there are times, I’m sure, when everyone wants to break the rules for their own good — one might have the need to perform a heist/extortion to break a debt deadlock or the want to shoot someone for vengeance. The fear of getting caught is usually deterrent enough. But when it does happen, the authorities are there to measure out the consequences. Such is the way in The Adjustment Bureau — only these authority figures oversee and adjust, as necessary, laws we have no idea exist.
David Norris (Matt Damon) is an authoritative figure himself. He is a charismatic politician running for the United States Senate. He has risen to this highly respectable position at a rather early age. Some of his choices, however, come back to haunt him on election day and during an alone moment in the bathroom, he meets and is instantly mesmerized by a beautiful woman (whom he later finds out is named Elise, played by Emily Blunt). She infuses into him a renewed spirit and he gives the speech of a lifetime. That was part of the plan. A secondary chance encounter months later with her is not and soon the mysterious enforcers of the Adjustment Bureau are on their tail conspiring to keep them apart.
This is because a secondary chance encounter is not according to the outline that they are forced to follow. They cannot fall in love. The men in black believe that together Norris and Elise will not meet their true potential — they both have bright futures so long as they remain apart. But this is a matter of the heart and Norris wants no part of the bureau’s grand scheme. He’s convinced he needs her (and who wouldn’t, it is Emily Blunt we’re talking about). And so he attempts to circumvent the elaborate roadblocks again and again to no avail — the agents control everything around Norris and chase him simply by opening doors that lead to the ending points of his runs.
It could be said that The Adjustment Bureau is the romanticists Inception. It has the same intriguing premise of an underground organization controlling the fates of people. They both involve characters going to great lengths to preserve love. Both have action scenes with special effects used to a great extent — there’s a runaway scene with Matt Damon that looks fairly similar to Leo DiCaprio running away through the village with the thrilling song Mombasa playing in the background. And ultimately, they both have question raising endings.
What separates the movies (besides the more intense love story) is the tense atmosphere that drapes all the scenes in The Adjustment Bureau like a wet blanket. Once the bureau is revealed to Norris his every move becomes a calculated risk — he’s never quite sure whether he’s currently under surveillance. And when they do show up, heart racing anxiety kicks into high gear. Likewise, the conversations in The Adjustment Bureau intrigue — answering one philosophical question while creating two new ones. We’re left wondering if the agents are even human. Why are they monitoring Norris so heavily; do they control the entire world? Who is the chairman they speak in hushed tones about? If there is a complaint to be had it is these questions and more remain open ended.
Asking and answering these questions is an all-star cast made up of Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Michael Kelly, John Slattery and Terence Stamp. All performances are excellent but Matt Damon is really a step above the others conveying a man willing to risk everything. In a close second is Emily Blunt. Not only does she pull off the ballet dancing convincingly (maybe as good as Natalie Portman in Black Swan) but her emotional acting made the on-screen chemistry between her and Damon very believable. The glue that binds them together is the unforgettable agents (Slattery and Stamp). Like in The Matrix, these guys are all about business and are so cold that they help the viewer empathize with the protagonists of the movie. (Be grateful this is a work of fiction and these guys aren’t really out there determining your fate).
I accept that the conflict between free will and predestination may be outrageous for those of strict religious beliefs. However, when viewing strictly as a piece of filmmaking, The Adjustment Bureau really deserves a laudable reaction since it creates such an inspirational story about love and free will. And like David Norris, if you believe in these virtues then you too must fight for them. It’s a powerful message and it means more so now than probably ever before.