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The Adjustment Bureau: Choose your own destiny

Director: George Nolfi
Screenplay: George Nolfi
Release Date: March 4, healing 2011
Actors: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly
Based on the short story ‘The Adjustment Team’ by Philip K. Dick

Do you ever wonder about fate? Do you believe in destiny and the idea of free will? These are all questions that you will ask yourself while watching ‘The Adjustment Bureau’.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is the youngest man to run for Senator in the state of New York. As his popularity quickly rises, he thinks he is invincible, despite his impulsive behaviour and young age. However, he discovers that as quickly as popularity rises, it can quickly fall too, with the leak of a photo of himself mooning his friends in college on the eve of his election. Despite his lead prior to the election, he ends up losing, crushed by his competitor. While struggling to come up with his speech in the men’s bathroom of his hotel, he meets a sassy, captivating yet elusive woman and share an unexpected kiss. The experience leaves him finding inspiration and delivering an unexpectedly well-received speech, leaving an impression on his supporters for the following election.

Fast forward 6 months. We are introduced to mysterious men in hats, one in particular named Harry (Anthony Mackie) that is assigned to make David’s coffee spill at exactly 7:05a.m. in the morning. However, he falls asleep and finds that he is too late and David has already gotten on the bus. Once David gets on the bus, he finds that the mysterious woman he met in the bathroom is also seated, staring out the window. Excited, he sits down next to her and they exchange a flirtatious banter resulting in the receipt of her phone number and the discovery that her name is Elise. David later enters his office building, not fully realizing that something strange is happening until he goes into the main meeting room, where a bunch of ‘hat-ted’ and suited men are ‘scanning’ many people of which he works with. From that point on, David’s life is changed forever, as he meets “The Adjustment Bureau”, and is told point blank not to contact Elise again. That, and not to tell anyone else, or David shall be ‘reset’. The ‘chairman’ has bigger plans for him, and Elise shall not be a part of David’s plan. They take the card with Elise’s phone number from David and burns it. David obeys, but cannot get Elise out of his mind. From that point on, David’s heart is not in the Senate race and tries to change his assigned destiny by finding a way to be with Elise and avoid the Adjustment Bureau.


‘The Adjustment Bureau’ is based on the short story by sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, also known as ‘The Adjustment Team’. At the heart of the film it’s about a romance, but the more interesting question that remains are those of free will and fate. The beginning shots of The Adjustment Bureau were reminiscent to me of The Observers from Fringe (though they are bald) and the style of which the Adjustment Bureau went through door after door ending up in unexpected places was very Inception-esque. However, ‘The Adjustment Team’ is a much older story, and these comparisons happened to pop into my head. I really liked how despite the threats of the Bureau, they aren’t a violent bunch (unless you consider being reset as one of them), and they use their power to cause different future events in order to achieve their expected result. They certainly aren’t “all-powerful”, as they are limited to the magic of their hats to move and travel in and out of places quickly. It is because of these limits and David’s determination to be with Elise that make ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ a very entertaining film. Even though David knows what his plan is supposed to be, he refuses to accept it and is willing to go to great lengths to get what he wants and the happiness he feels he deserves.

The film raises questions as to whether we really have the ability to change our fate when we fight for something we believe in, or whether or not everything is planned for us. Does it succeed on this level? Yes, and no. The film counteracts a lot of my own personal thinking that – there is not just “one person” in the world for you, and there is not just “one career” for you, and that is the plan, and everything must go according to plan. It is sure to bring about debate, especially with those of faith in a greater being (in fact, this movie is making the rounds with free screenings that are church sponsored). Is there a greater plan for all of us? Do our decisions mean anything? ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ even suggests that if it were not for them, humanity and life as we know it would have been long dead. That’s almost condescending. It causes a divide between those who would like to believe that their future is in their complete control, and it is because of the decisions we make that bring us to where we are today, and those who believe that ‘the person upstairs’ has a plan for each and everyone of us and he simply guides us towards that direction. I enjoy films that make you think, or those that might even spark a debate. ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ certainly can create the spark, but the film itself lacks of depth and connection with the audience that would really strike a chord with emotion. Certainly, the chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are out of the world, supported by terrific acting that of Terence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and Michael Kelly all of which are given good character development. However, there is just something slightly missing in putting it altogether that it doesn’t fully succeed. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film – I really did, but I felt no triumph or emotion for the ending that we were given, and I felt that given all that David Norris went through, it should have been much more satisfying. It all built up… to all abruptly end, with not much payoff. In addition, there was no mystery as to the reason as to why they could not be together. I found it very predictable, almost from the very first ten minutes of the film. Those are the main reasons as to why I didn’t love the film, yet can heartily say I enjoyed it and would still recommend it.

Recommended. A whirlwind of subtle visual effects and magnetic chemistry between the two leads. 3.5 fedoras / 5 fedoras

If you like this movie, you might also like: Inception, Matrix, Sliding Doors, The Butterfly Effect

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Note: I’m always looking to improve my writing and my reviews – if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear from you!

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