The Adjustment Bureau
Published: March 9, 2011
The Adjustment Bureau
Directed by George Nolfi
The Adjustment Bureau , based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team” and written/directed by George Nolfi, portends to comment on the paths of destiny and fate, of free will and choice and happiness—through the presence of a team of immortal something or others who have a master plan for the universe and exist to ensure that each person sticks to his or her part. You have free will over small choices—what type of coffee you order, say—but should your actions cause you to deviate from your planned path, the team steps in and makes an “adjustment”—perhaps causing you to spill said coffee and miss a certain bus.
This is what is supposed to happen to David Norris (Matt Damon), a young political zealot running for a U.S. Senate seat in New York. He loses the election when a tabloid releases a photo of his exposed prankster rear, and while preparing his concession speech in a bathroom meets, flirts, and makes out with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). Elise is, of course, the whimsically adorable and free-spirited complement to David’s suit and dress shoes, but she disappears quickly when building security guards try to catch her for crashing a wedding.
From here, you can probably guess the rest. And even if you guess incorrectly, whatever you came up with can’t be worse than what Nolfi delivers. The grand plan doesn’t allow for the two to be together, so Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) is assigned to bump into David and spill his coffee, keeping him off Elise’s bus and away from his office long enough for the team to perform some “adjustments” to David’s co-workers. But Harry falls asleep, and David meets Elise, and then sees the team, and so spends the rest of the movie trying to outsmart them and get control of his life, and Elise, back.
Throughout the chase, the filmmakers subject you to one trite step after another, each a mistake forgivable on its own but an overt failure taken as a whole. Construction of a sci-fi tech/psyche thriller means one of two options: establishing a new set of parameters in which characters can move, or creating a wholly different universe in which they exist. Last year’s Inception, for instance, featured human characters functioning on an Earth similar to ours. They were able to enter dreams not because of some suspension of belief, but because the writers designed a plausible explanation for the need, rise, and development of a new technology.
Nolfi and team, however, leave us stranded in some awkward halfway land, where David and Emily live like us but the Adjustment Team simply is. We know not who (or why) they are, why (or how) they do what they do, and who (or what) gives them their power. It seems to be an attempt at mystery; it feels like laziness and banality. We discover, for instance, that the team is able to travel through a planned map of doors criss-crossing Manhattan (and, presumably, everywhere else in the world, though that never comes up). Open a door in a coffee shop bathroom and it can lead to an art museum gallery. And when David needs to reach Elise before saying her vows, Harry steps in and lends David his secret: the hat on his head. Why is the hat magical? We don’t know, and we suspect Nolfi doesn’t either.
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