The Adjustment Bureau (A Lesson In Not Judging A Book By It’s Cover – Or Film By It’s Trailer)

This poster implies that The Adjustment Bureau is a film all about Matt Damon and Emily Blunt running from a nasty 'Big Brother' style figure. But it really isn't. And that's a good thing!

 Trailers of films these days often given too much away. I think it was the trailer for the film The Town which appeared to just be a truncated version of the entire film, including what appeared to be some fairly important plot developments. So I never bothered with it.

The point of trailers is to get you interested in seeing the films, so they really have to work as a taster for them. Based on the trailers I saw today, I’m interested in seeing Hall Pass and Source Code, and less interested in seeing The Eagle and that film about an alien invasion in Los Angeles (even though the genres of the films are ones I *should* be interested in).

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I sat through the trailer for The Adjustment Bureau and thought “Well that doesn’t look very good”. It just seemed like a basic romance movie with some chasing up and down corridors to make it ‘exciting’. But I read a bit more about it and also saw it got good reviews, and so I decided I’d give it a go and hope my impressions based on the trailer were false. Incidentally, based on the trailer, I thought Unknown looked great, and it gets pretty average reviews. I still plan on giving it a go.

So did the trailer do a bad job of advertising the film? Read on…

The Plot

I ended up writing pretty much the entire plot here, but I don’t want to do that. I want you to be able to go to the film as spoiler free as possible. So here’s a basic synopsis of what the film is about…

The Adjustment Bureau is a group of ‘agents’ who make sure each human being’s ‘journey’ goes according to the plan written for them by ‘The Chairman’. While it isn’t explicitly stated, I guess we’re supposed to assume that the agents are angels, and that The Chairman is God. During the film, it’s explained that mankind needs the Bureau to control peoples’ destiny, as when they don’t, man messes it up for himself. He gives the example that the Bureau left man to it in 1910 but had to take control again in 1960 after two world wars, the Holocaust, the Great Depression and the threat of nuclear war.

Essentially while man has ‘free will’ for choosing trivial things like what he’s going to eat in a restaurant and what TV show to watch, his overall destiny is pre-written, and these guys are there to ensure each person sticks to the plan.

With that in mind, this film is about up-and-coming politician David Norris (played by John Cena lookalike Matt Damon, starring in yet another film this year), who has a ‘chance’ (i.e. pre-determined) encounter with a woman called Elise (Emily Blunt) on election night of his failed campaign for Senate. They form an instant connection and she inspires him to go out there and speak from the heart in his Concession Speech. And that is supposed to be the last time they ever see each other.

But three months later, a slip-up by one of the Bureau’s Agents sees Norris get on a bus that – according to his destiny – he shouldn’t have been on. And there, by proper chance this time, he meets Elise again, and their relationship develops further. Moreover, by getting on the bus, he also gets in to work on time – which he wasn’t supposed to do – and catches the Agents busy at work. As they put it, he’s seen behind a curtain he wasn’t even supposed to know existed.

They explain to him what the Bureau is and tell him that if he tells anyone of their existence, they will wipe his mind. Furthermore, they tell him that he was never supposed to see Elise again after that first night, and that he should never attempt to contact her. To make sure, they burn the business card she had written her number on. Since New York has a population of 9m, the odds of them seeing each other again are incredibly low.

Three years pass, and in that time Norris has ridden the same bus every day in the hope of seeing her again, despite the Bureau’s warnings. But one day he does see her walking along the street. And so they meet up again, and that sets the Agents into motion as they try their best to ensure the two of them remain apart.

Beyond this, I don’t want to say much as it ruins the plot and therefore will make going to see this film a bit of a pointless gesture for anyone reading this.

Thoughts 

Again, without spoiling anything, I would say the film really impressed me. I declared the last film I went to see at the cinema – True Grit – as the best film I’d seen all year, but this runs it close. Maybe I’ll even look back on it and think it was better.

What I liked about the film was that it seemed reasonably fresh. On the surface it seemed like your bog standard ‘Man evades a Big Brother-style governing body’ plot which has been done to death, and I suppose that’s why the trailer didn’t appeal to me. But there is more to it than that.

For example, The Bureau aren’t the bad guys. I don’t think it ruins anything to say that. They do what they do to ensure that things go to a plan that means people really get the best out of their lives. The Agents themselves are portrayed as frustrated middle-managers being let down by the system (that being that Norris’s genuine ‘chance’ meetings with Elise are causing them havoc). While Norris is without a doubt a headache to them, they empathise with him. They understand that he has a genuine connection with her (and there’s a clever reason for why, which I won’t spoil), but they are just carrying out their instructions.

When middle-management (here played very well by John Slattery and Anthony Mackie) pass the Norris problem up to the Bureau’s trouble-shooter – Thompson (played by Terence Stamp) – he reveals to Norris that the reason they can’t be together is because together, neither will come anywhere close to reaching their potential. The plans destiny has in store for them both are that they will reach the top of their respective professions, but together they won’t do that, and that has a knock-on effect for many other people.

So their motives are not sinister.

Throughout the film, the plot kept me intrigued and the themes explored were entertaining and interesting. Beyond that, I thought it was well acted. Colour me impressed once again with Matt Damon. That’s two films in a row where he’s been particularly good. I don’t really understand why people have a problem with him.

It's the obligatory 'Matt Damon looks like John Cena' picture

The supporting cast are also good, and as I say, the portrayal of the Agents as frustrated middle-managers as part of a sort-of angelic corporate structure raises a few laughs – particularly Slattery’s character. That’s not to say it isn’t played seriously, because it is. We’re not talking about a couple of bumbling oafs playing for laughs.

I’ve never seen anything with Emily Blunt in it previous to this either, but much like the other key players, I thought she did a worthy job.

The other positive thing I can say is that in spite of the trailer, this really isn’t a lot of running up and down corridors. What they show in the trailer and what the poster for the film suggests really only occurs for a few minutes towards the end.

If I was to criticise the film, it would be on three counts…

The first is that some people will struggle to follow it. There are what could loosely be called ‘Science Fiction’ elements to this film, which will leave some people struggling to understand what’s going on. Put it this way, I know someone who struggles with Back to the Future 2, so I wouldn’t recommend this to that person. But for someone like me who loves ‘clever’ plots with a science fiction element, it works well.

The second criticism is that this is yet another film that impresses the point to the viewer that there is ONE PERSON for each and every one of us out there, and that it’s our destiny to find that ONE PERSON. Now, people who are romantic by nature won’t actually find a problem with this, but I’ve been swayed by a recent episode of How TV Ruined Your Life with Charlie Brooker. Brooker is quite right – time and time again TV & Film markets the concept that each one of us has a single individual soul mate who we must find. And it’s not realistic at all. Furthermore, as long as entertainment sticks to this mantra, ordinary people will continue to become depressed when they split up with whom they perceive to be their one-and-only soul mate, and their single chance of happiness. And as long as this happens then James Blunt will always have a job. Do any of us want that? Really?

My final criticism is the last scene is pretty cheesy. I guess the more perceptive among you might be able to guess why.

But then these aren’t major criticisms and don’t ruin the film as far as I’m concerned.

Should You Go and See The Adjustment Bureau

I would recommend this to anyone who likes the following kinds of films: Romance, Thrillers and Sci-Fi. At different points it manages to work with each of them.

I often think I’m recommending pretty much everything I see, but then I wouldn’t take the time to go and see something if I thought it would be crap. That’s why there are no reviews of films like Big Mommas House: Like Father Like Son or No Strings Attached.

But yes, go and see it. It’s good!

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One Response to The Adjustment Bureau (A Lesson In Not Judging A Book By It’s Cover – Or Film By It’s Trailer)

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