In case you’ve forgotten, love must at least attempt to conquer all, even if it isn’t necessarily successful. I only say that because I don’t want to ruin how The Adjustment Bureau ends, although astute readers will recognize that it’s a Hollywood film and probably have a pretty good idea. It doesn’t matter. This is a film far more about the journey — and its philosophical implications than the destination. The journey in this case is one of the good ones. This is a smart, thrilling, and surprisingly romantic movie.
The basic idea is this: Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) is running for the Senate. He loses, but on election night he runs into Elise (Emily Blunt), with whom he shares some laughs and a kiss, but doesn’t even get her name. Three years later and he runs into her again — this time on a bus. He gets a number this time. But, at work, something is wrong. He sees men in suits using science fiction technology on his co-workers. He tries, unsuccessfully, to run away from them, hoping he doesn’t meet the same fate. It’s now when we learn who these men are. Or, more correctly, we learn what they do.
What they do is this: They make sure everything goes according to plan. What does that mean? Apparently everyone has a “plan” laid out for them by … someone, and that plan must be followed. If everything isn’t going according to plan, these men in suits show up to interfere. Chance can sometimes play a role — David wasn’t supposed to ever see Elise again — but the men in suits can fix pretty much anything that goes awry.
So, we’re doing free will vs. predeterminism in this movie. That’s perfectly fine with me. It’ll give audiences a little more to chew on, intellectually, than most movies about two people trying to fall in love. Most of the film involves David trying to find Elise in spite of the best efforts of the men in suits. And, assuming he does find her, he’s not allowed to tell her of any of this behind-the-scenes stuff, or else he’ll be “reset,” which we learn is essentially lobotomization.
The Adjustment Bureau is a wild ride. Some of the powers these men in suits have is to open a door to pretty much anywhere, meaning we can go to a wide variety of locations in New York city in the blink of an eye. One of the scene in the film involves going from Yankee Stadium to Liberty Island to the city streets all in the course of a minute. I think one of the shots had the characters go through a couple of doors without a single cut, which just looks fantastic. This isn’t an expensive sci-fi film with lots of special effects, but it is sleek and looks pretty great.
When the film begins to fall apart is in its final 15 minutes, when it becomes one lengthy chase scene. It’s a really good looking chase scene, but that’s generally far too long for one to exist, and it basically completely forgets about the intelligent premise that preceded it. You’ve got all this buildup and then we’re going to conclude with a foot race and a hammered-in “love conquers all (maybe)” theme? Right. That’s a letdown.
Parts of the second act also feel very similar to earlier moments. It mostly goes like this: (1) David and Elise meet. (2) David and Elise are separated. (3) David tries to find Elise while the men of the Adjustment Bureau try to keep them apart. (4) Rinse and repeat. That happens about three times and while the details are different each time, the overarching plot is the same. And what’s Elise doing all this time? She and David are clearly in love — or are they, given the whole predestination thing? — but we basically just follow him the whole time.
Does it all work, logically? Probably not, but it’s a lot of fun in the moment and you’re unlikely to question it while it’s playing. And if you do think more about it after it ends, then it’s successful, isn’t it? So many movies are watched and discarded by the mind; if this one can remain for a few days afterward, it will have done something that most could not. It might not inspire lengthy conversations but it might bring a few issues to mind that you’ll want to debate internally.
Even the romantic aspects work. Not as well as you might hope, but they’re fine. The “love conquers all” message gets hammered home really hard later on, but because of the easygoing charm and chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, it’s hard to truly disapprove. They seem well-matched and regardless of whether or not their love is “true,” you want to see them wind up together at the end of the film. Hopefully the creator — called “the Chairman in the film,” although we’re also told He/She has had many names — will let them.
For what’s, for the most part, a cat-and-mouse game, The Adjustment Bureau is a lot of fun. It’s smarter than it needs to be and more romantic than it likely should. Its final 15 minutes aren’t as strong as they could have been and the second act contains a bit too much repetition, but it’s a fun journey because of the premise, stars, and intelligent filmmaking. The movie will make you think. That’s what good science fiction does. It will also entertain, and that’s what most good films do. By that logic, The Adjustment Bureau is a good sci-fi movie.