365 Days, 100 Films #13 – The Adjustment Bureau (2011)

The Adjustment Bureau, 2011.

Written and Directed by George Nolfi.
Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Anthony Ruivivar, Michael Kelly and Terence Stamp.

The Adjustment Bureau

An aspiring politician David Norris falls for the free-spirited Elise Sellas, but this doesn’t fit in with the Adjustment Bureau’s plans, a fate-controlling, supernatural organisation.

The Adjustment Bureau
Matt Damon has been turning up in quite a few places recently. Appearances in True Grit, Hereafter and 30 Rock have come in quick succession, and now he’s the lead in The Adjustment Bureau. It happens to actors sometimes. Remember when Jude Law was in every other movie for a few years?

Here Damon plays David Norris, a politician seeking election to the U.S. Senate. He’s a down-to-earth kinda guy, and that’s what the voters love about him. He got in a bar fight the night he won his first political victory. After loosing his initial campaign to be elected to the Senate, he gave an unscripted speech about the deceitfulness in politics – not in politicians making wild promises, but of the focus groups and specialist advisers that determine what colour tie would appeal most to the public. He jokes that his team spent a small fortune on the optimum polished/scuffed ratio for the shoes on his feet. Norris isn’t a man to be inhibited by such bureaucracy – not in politics or in life.

The speech is so heartfelt that his opinion polls receive an overnight boom. Straight talking can cut through a lot your rivals’ polished crap. He’s an inspiring politician once again, and there are whispers of great things by both commentators and the Heavens. You see, David Norris has been watched over since birth, unbeknownst to him, by a very discreet man dressed in a hat and suit. It’s this man’s duty to guide Norris through certain events in his life so he reaches his predetermined destination. He’s part of a bigger, grander plan designed by a much bigger, grander authority. Well, we all are, but Norris is more important. Some have called this man and those in his profession ‘angels’. The film prefers to call them the ‘Adjustment Bureau’.

The Adjustment Bureau themselves are a stuffy bunch of administrators, gently nudging the human race along the course their ‘superior’ (read: God) has provided. But what about free will? The last time they tried that we gave them the Holocaust. It’s a wonderful notion, though, that heaven is a depressing bureaucracy, where forms and authorisation must be sought for even the smallest of issues. The film wisely treats this idea as quite lightly, preferring to bring out the silliness of it all, recalling the farcical, subordinated grey suits of Brazil.

The problem is, Norris takes a fancy to something not in the big, grand plan: Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). She’s a dancer, one of those ‘free spirit’ sorts, a convenient profession for the ‘free’ versus ‘fate’ debate that the film plays out. Norris continues to pursue her, against the plan’s supposedly better judgement and to the Adjustment Bureau’s increasing frustration. When he strays too far from the plan, the Adjustment Bureau are forced to take more significant action, freezing time itself, altering the minds of a few supporting characters and exposing their operation to a bewildered Norris. They give him a choice. He can stick to the plan, stop chasing after Elise and never speak of the Adjustment Bureau’s existence; or he can have his entire memory reset, effectively being lobotomised. A no-brainer, really (1-up pun point).

It’s heartbreaking because the chemistry between Norris and Elise is genuine. You just assume the actors are going out in real life too, and think it a little sad that they aren’t. I’ve always seen Emily Blunt as a bit of an ice queen, but she’s so flimsy and adorable here it’s impossible not to fall for her a little – and Damon is just great in everything. There’s something so American about him, in a complimenting way.

The film poses an interesting question when explaining why the Plan keeps the two apart. Separately, both Norris and Elise are meant for great things. Norris could be on the route to Presidency and Elise is on the cusp of becoming a famous dancer. However, if the two were allowed to be together, the emptiness driving them both would be fulfilled. Their desire to succeed would diminish because they have each other. It’s what happens, isn’t it? To fully strive for something, you need a void to fill. But how can you if you’re completed by love? It sounds corny, but it makes a lot of sense. To be truly great, you must be emotionally retarded.

Near the end, The Adjustment Bureau cops out on this depressing truth. You can’t complain too much, though, because the film is so entertaining. Essentially, it’s a ‘light sci-fi romp’. I don’t know many others either. It’s fast-paced, it’s romantic, it’s a little camp – but in a good way, a (pre-Le Blanc) Lost in Space way. In fact, it’s probably a pretty good date movie. For the more Blade Runner-inclined couple, of course.

Oli Davis

365 Days, 100 Films

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