The Adjustment Bureau
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 13 March 2011
Many people like to think that things happens for a reason – there is reassurance to be had in the glass-half-full attitude that “what’s meant to be, will be”. At the same time, we believe we can control and attain what we want in life. But imagine life is actually more structured, and less random, than either philosophy allows – and that every step we take, and choice we make, irreparably affects the way our life unfolds.
This is the premise of The Adjustment Bureau, as politician David Norris (an immensely likeable Matt Damon) threatens to tip off his path to the White House when he meets and falls in love with a complete stranger. In a situation reminiscent of Sliding Doors, things get complicated when Norris turns up to work minutes earlier than “planned” and witnesses something he shouldn’t. Suddenly he is a target for the enforcers of the eponymous Bureau as they contrive to get him back on track.
Emily Blunt plays the dancer who captures Norris’ heart, and there is real chemistry in the couple’s quick-fire banter and immediate ease with one another. The story (taken from Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Adjustment Team”) dallies with cod-religious philosophy while not quite giving us answers, nor anything polemical that might offend our own sensibilities. The script is well-paced, toying with interesting ideas around freewill and destiny, and we are kept guessing, along with Norris, as strange men in fedoras try to prevent his blossoming romance by hurtling through doorways that don’t quite lead where you’d expect, like something out of The Matrix or Alice in Wonderland.
The conceit is arguably quite complex for the inevitably cursory handling in a 95-minute film – at times the ideas feel glossed over, and the denouement is somewhat clunky. But it’s an intriguing film, nonetheless, and any flaws can be overlooked by its ability to offer you an alternate reality for a while, and the necessity for a post-mortem after it ends.