THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU


Dir. George Nolfi. USA. 2011.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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We know that plans can change but the key question in first-time director George Nolfi's thriller, The Adjustment Bureau, is whether or not “The Plan” can change. Very loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (J.D. Salinger would say “I told you so”), The Adjustment Bureau is a highly entertaining film, filled with an intriguing story line, enough action to keep us awake and focused, and a storybook romance in which the lovers actually have good chemistry together. On a philosophical level, however, calling it murky gives it more credit than it deserves. 

The premise of the film is that there is a “Plan”, that nothing happens by chance, and that free will is a comfortable illusion. According to Nolfi, our destiny is not guided by a loving universe but enforced by a cadre of cold “enforcers” who advise us to stay on the right path without question or our severed heads will be impaled on a spike on London Bridge for the tourists to take pictures of. These enforcers have been with us throughout human history except for the times when they took a vacation just to stand back and observe us stumblebums get ourselves into mischief like wars, depressions, and going to Justin Bieber concerts.

As the film opens, Matt Damon is David Norris, a candidate for the United States Senate from New York and a young man who looks as if he has unlimited promise for future leadership roles. His campaign is attracting large crowds, though he never seems to talk about any issues. Riding high in the polls, his campaign goes off the tracks when the New York Post splashes a sensational story across the front page about a prank that he committed many years ago and his chances taste like the proverbial toast. On the night of his concession speech, however, Norris bumps into Elise Sellas (Emily Blount), an attractive young woman hiding from security in the men's room after she crashed a wedding. It is almost contrivance at first sight, until she is chased out of the building by security without giving Norris her phone number. 

The chance (or so we think) meeting empowers David to make an honest concession speech which immediately makes him the front runner for the next Senate race, by which time it is assumed his reckless behavior in the past will have been forgotten (unless he decides to moon someone on the subway). Later, he meets Elise on the bus going to work who tells him that she is a professional dancer and gives him her phone number. Their relationship seems to be heading in the right direction until four mysterious spooks enter the picture and gum up the works. Their identity is never revealed, except that they are sort of mid-level enforcers for someone called The Chairman, a kind of a big shot sky captain who insists that “they do it my way”, even with no Sammy Davis, Jr. in the picture.

Unlike the gentle angels in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, these guys are no fun to be around. One of the members is Richardson (John Slattery), a straight-laced, humorless kind of guy that you might find at a Tea Party rally. Another is Harry (Anthony Mackie) who was supposed to have prevented David form meeting Elise for the second time but bungled the job and later even becomes sympathetic to his charge, a no-no for these goofballs. When the spooks capture David, rather than treating him to a vegan dinner, they lead him into a cavernous ballroom to let him know in no uncertain terms that their Plan Book says that he and Elise should not be together and that he must stop seeing her immediately. 

As if that is not enough, they tell him that if their existence is revealed to anyone, even inadvertently, his brain will be “reset” which is enforcer-ese for Instant Oatmeal, presumably unflavored. The four guys have one motto and that is “keep your hat on”. Apparently their hats allow them to enter through one door and come out another door far away such as Yankee Stadium, The Statue of Liberty, or the subway during rush hour. Later someone tells David to “assume everyone with a hat on is a threat, no matter if it's a beanie, a turban, or a yarmulke.” Hopefully, they won't be put into magic ghettos. The enforcers carry iPad-looking devices which they use to change someone's fate in real time, entering into someone's mind to screw it up or at least prevent them from finding a taxi (doesn't take a magician to do that in New York). 

Though we never meet the big cheese, we are privy to the company of Thompson, a “senior advisor” who looks and acts like the others, same great taste, fewer calories. Unable to find Elise because the guys burned her telephone number, poor David rides the same bus every day for three years hoping to see Elise again, though you'd think that after a while he might get the idea that she no longer rides this bus. Despite the important snowfall alert that both of their dreams of future glory will turn to mush if they insist on being together, David thinks that true love conquers all, and who knows, he might be right. After all, strong intention can overcome the most powerful force in the world - yourself. 

May the force be with you!

GRADE: B+

Howard Schumann

 
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