Fate versus freewill. Religious theorists and philosophers have contemplated the idea for centuries, and this weekend The Adjustment Bureau tries to tackle the debate. What would you do if you found out your entire life were planned for you? And what if the plan wasn't what you wanted? The weighty subject matter should give you plenty to chew on, but The Adjustment Bureau isn't adept enough to handle the issue. Instead, we get a generic story.
Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (the sci-fi writer also behind Blade Runner and Minority Report), The Adjustment Bureau stars Matt Damon as David Norris, a politician who crosses paths with a ballerina named Elise (Emily Blunt) in a men's bathroom. Instant sparks ignite, so when they bump into each other again on a bus, David is convinced that fate is intervening. But really, it's a mistake of chance — and it must be corrected. In come suited agents led by Richardson (John Slattery). They're men in charge of monitoring the world (the film suggests they're angels) to make sure everyone proceeds on the path predetermined for them. Since David has fallen off course, they must make sure he forgets about Elise for the sake of his political career. But unfortunately for them, David is quite the smitten schoolboy and isn't willing to let her go.
For my thoughts on the film's problems and Damon's performance, read more.
As the chase begins, David bolts through Manhattan streets to steer clear of Richardson and his men. But how can you outrun or outsmart fate? Especially considering the head of the agency is — as implied in the film — God. There literally is nowhere for David to escape, so you start to wonder where exactly the film can go. Given the story's inventiveness, I kept waiting for a clever twist or unexpected outcome, but the ending is flat and dumbed down.
The Adjustment Bureau wants to be a sci-fi film, thriller, and romance all in one, and by trying to do too much, it ultimately runs into problems. It glosses over many of the sci-fi plot components through quick verbal explanation, and the relationship between David and Elise feels rushed. When David first meets the agents, he doesn't seem nearly as concerned with the bizarre group as he is with holding onto Elise's phone number. Not only is it realistic, but it's a little too cheesy. The agents themselves don't help matters; Slattery does the best he can with his role, as does Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) who plays David's personal watcher. But on the whole, they come across as campy and deliver the script's most cliched lines.
Damon and Blunt are what ultimately make the film worth watching. Damon was born to play a politician with his charisma, and Blunt's sarcasm makes for fun banter. They have great chemistry, and when the script does allow their relationship to grow, it makes for some of the movie's most gratifying scenes. If only the rest of the film was just as satisfying.