Enforcer: You don't have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will.
David Norris: You expect me to believe that? I make decisions every day.
Enforcer: You have free will over which toothpaste you use, or which beverage to order at lunch. But humanity just isn't mature enough to control the important things.
Free will or predestination? I was surprised to find such a timeless question at the forefront of this big-budget Hollywood film. It’s a difficult discussion that no filmmaker could possibly develop in 100 minutes, but The Adjustment Bureau provides both a thought-provoking plot and an entertainingly slick production.
David Norris (Matt Damon) has just lost the senatorial election by a landslide. He walks into the deserted men’s bathroom to practice his concession speech, but his impassioned rehearsal is interrupted by Elise (Emily Blunt), a woman hiding from security in a stall. Though their meeting is awkward, the electricity between them is undeniable. But their love is not meant to be. Their lives are [supposed to be] on different paths, orchestrated by the Adjustment Bureau, an organization that painstakingly ensures that each person’s appropriate destiny takes place. David fights back against the Bureau, wanting above anything to be with Elise. But as the fight escalates, he quickly learns that gaining Elise will mean losing everything.
Contrary to the trailers’ suggestion, this is not an action film. This is a slowly paced drama with only a few thrilling sequences; interest is mostly kept by a mysterious, supernatural plot and some unexpected twists. Every supernatural thriller and sci-fi film has the difficult task presenting a new universe where new “rules” apply. Sometimes this is done seamlessly, the audience lured into suspending their disbelief. But in this film, the “rules” of David and Elise’s fictional reality appear arbitrary, unbelievable, and even downright ridiculous. And since these rules are necessary to propel the story, the plot itself irritated me on several points—such as the Adjustment Bureau’s inability to function around water, or the necessity that all operatives wear hats. It drove me crazy.
The acting is generally good from Damon and Blunt, and Terence Stamp unnerves as the creepy and soulless Thompson, the Bureau’s top enforcer. The dialogue had some good comedic moments, relaxing the tense atmosphere, but at times it felt awkwardly unnatural and forced, as though there was a lack of real chemistry between the leads. The dialogue was also frequented by profanities, and sex was used to propel character development as the lovers slept together in a steamy (yet non-explicit) scene that distracted from the true beauty of their relationship.
The score was fitting but not extraordinary. Thomas Newman’s orchestrations are simple, relying heavily on simple piano themes, soft strings, and the gentler percussion instruments. The score added depth to each scene and reflected the emotion of the moment.
The Adjustment Bureau raises interesting questions and forced me to ponder and really contemplate the ideas behind its story. The conclusions are theologically troubling, as the story analogizes the Adjustment Bureau to God and angels, but it does provide fodder for discussion. I won’t be changing my worldview because of it, but the viewing caused me to re-examine my own thoughts on the issue of free will versus destiny.
But despite its questions, the movie never provided any real answers. Perhaps the filmmakers didn’t know how to properly tackle such a huge subject; perhaps they were purposely vague to promote independent thought. The film generates good discussion starters and features a strong cast and bold, if underdeveloped, storyline. It had amazing potential. But instead of greatness it is just okay. I didn’t love it; I didn’t hate it. Watch it and decide for yourself.