CAPSULE: The agents of Fate battle the force of Chance in this odd romantic fantasy loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story. Angels or aliens have agents on Earth to make sure that what Fate says will happen really does. Two people who are fated not to meet do meet by chance and fall in love. If they want to stay together they must defeat the little men in suits and fedoras who are the agents of fate. This is a film that nicely balances romance and philosophy. Spoiler warning: I tell a little more of the premise of the film and the agents than the viewer would see in the first ten minutes. If anything it should make the film more interesting for the viewer to know what is going on. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
"In the mists before THE BEGINNING, Fate and Chance cast lots to decide whose the Game should be; and he that won strode through the mists to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI and said: 'Now make gods for Me, for I have won the cast and the Game is to be Mine.' Who it was that won the cast, and whether it was Fate or whether Chance that went through the mists before THE BEGINNING to MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI--none knoweth."
-- Lord Dunsany (from "The Gods of Pagana")
Dunsany wrote here about the conflict of Fate and Chance. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is really about that conflict in a modern-day setting. Free-will, chance, and fate are fairly abstract philosophical concepts and it is hard to imagine how a film could be built around these concepts. However, Philip K. Dick's short story "The Adjustment Team" inspired George Nolfi to write a screenplay that he then produced and directed. Note I said that the Dick story "inspired" the film THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, not that the film was based on it. The story was quite different, though it did have some of the same ideas. For example, Nolfi's characters are supposed to be people who are real world-beaters. One may become the President of the United States and another, one of the great artists of our time. Dick had a little more trust that his reader would find the story of sufficient import even if his characters were just commonplace middle-class types.
David Norris (played by Matt Damon) is a rising meteor in politics running for the U.S. Senate seat for New York when his opponents find a compromising photograph of him from his college days. The picture is released just hours before the election just in time to shock the voters into voting for his opponent. Half-heartedly he drops into a men's room to practice his concession speech only to find one Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) hiding there from the building's security guards after crashing a wedding. The two like each other immediately and the meeting inspires him to change his entire brand of politics. The two go for each other, but that was not how it was "supposed to be". There was a way it was "supposed to be"? Apparently, yes. Somehow time will fall out of joint if these two people get together. They are fated to each be successful but separate. Who decided what their fate would be? Well, there appears to be a sort of Secret Service for Fate. Men in suits and pre-Kennedy-era fedoras go around warping reality in order to work the will of Fate. While much of the film is not in Philip K. Dick's style, there definitely gimmicks here that his fans will approve of. Dick would probably approve of the scenes in which a room full of bureau men like set dressers are constructing a scene that will in minutes be someone's reality.
Just what are these men who are working to defend Fate? Do the lovers have the free will to get together or are they just puppets of Fate? The film has fascinating images of these non-descript men running around the city and making changes so that the world runs according to plan. The plan seems to be parceled out in books that Fate's agents carry that include maps that change in real time as if they were paper GPSs. They have secret passages through doorways that work differently for us normal people. The ideas are all very much like Dick would write about, but the people are entirely different. While Fate seems to be pulling the couple apart, Chance is apparently on their side. Coincidence works in their favor.
Nolfi sets the story to the streets of Manhattan instead of Dick's non-descript setting so that the non-Dickian chases would have a more interesting background. The casting is of interest. For once I could to see what the two lovers saw in each other. There was a nice chemistry between Emily Blunt and Matt Damon that they may be able to use in future films. Blunt is also an impressively good dancer, if that was not just CGI. It is interesting to see John Slattery of AMC's MAD MEN dressing in 1960s styles again. There is even a pivotal role for Terrence Stamp. Nolfi has made this a nice polished film.
This is not the Philip K. Dick story it was supposedly based on, but it does look at engaging philosophical questions that a film like IRON MAN would never even think of. Dick's paranoid ironies are all nicely in place. The film still has something to offer both genders. That makes it a good date film, I suppose. There are few films that cover both romance and ideas as adeptly as this freshman director. I rate THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. This film sort of begs comparison to INCEPTION. In that film you followed a team of people who subliminally manipulate others. THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is about people who are subliminally manipulated. In a sense they are two sides of the same plot.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1385826
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/adjustment_bureau/
The original story can be found on-line at http://tinyurl.com/leeper-adjustment-team
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper