For millennia, mankind has wondered whether humans have free will and make our own decisions, or if Fate, God or gods are really pulling the strings and controlling our unalterable destinies. In The Adjustment Bureau, Matt Damon plays David Norris, a New York congressman who is told by shadowy, fedora-wearing supernatural agents of predestination that his promising future cannot include Elise, a dancer played by Emily Blunt, who Norris meets and falls for in a chance encounter on the eve of a big election. See the trailer below.
Perhaps the strongest parts of The Adjustment Bureau are the early scenes between Norris and Elise as their paths cross over several years. The chemistry between Damon and Blunt is undeniable, making it easy to understand why Norris remains so smitten with her despite the Bureau’s threats. And Damon, a close follower of politics who has donated generously to democrats, displays a facility with campaign mannerisms that makes you wonder if he’ll eventually run for office.
And let’s call a spade a spade: the agents are basically angels in suits who take their orders from God, known by the agents as the Chairman. I enjoyed the idea of God and his angels operating like the boss and employees of a bureaucracy, checking reports and tinkering with events to keep the gears of destiny running smoothly. And in a refreshing twist, the angels, led by Terence Stamp and Mad Men’s John Slattery, aren’t near omnipotent like the angels in the bible. Despite being able to predict and disrupt events and teleport across New York using a network of magic doors, the agents are exceedingly human, with limited powers that leave them struggling to meet deadlines, complaining about their assignments, and requiring clearance from “upstairs” if they need to deviate from protocol. The film is as much about the agents and their difficulties keeping Norris on his assigned path as it is about Norris’ efforts to break from it.
It’s because The Adjustment Bureau has so much going for it that it’s so surprising when the film takes a precipitous, sometimes laughable slide in its last act as a sympathetic agent played by Anthony Mackie helps Norris hatch a plan to save Elisa from her assigned fate, involving a chase through New York and the revelation that the teleportation doors only work if you’re wearing one of the agents’ fedoras. I assume the hats are supposed to represent halos, but c’mon — it’s a magic freaking hat.
It’s a shame that The Adjustment Bureau, with its sparkling performances, promising premise, and thought-provoking questions about free will, human nature, fate, and the justness of God’s motives could end in such a pat, corny heap that’s sure to draw negative comparisons to superior mind-benders like Inception and The Matrix. If you are destined to see The Adjustment Bureau, I’d recommend you exercise some free will and catch something else. After all, maybe that’s what the Chairman wants you to do…