Review: 'The Adjustment Bureau' Requires Some Adjustments of Its Own
A young politician’s life changes forever when he is confronted with a new reality in the drama “The Adjustment Bureau." Matt Damon stars as a Congressman who discovers that his life is being manipulated by a group of “adjusters” who are trying to keep the Congressman's life on a certain track. The story’s concept is strong and could have been used to make an intriguing and thoughtful film about a man fighting for freedom from outside forces. Unfortunately, “The Adjustment Bureau” is not that film.
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Damon plays David Norris, a “bad-boy Congressman” who is running for the United States Senate. He’s an up-and-coming political rock star who spends time with real-life political figures like Terry McAuliffe, Wesley Clark, and Madeleine Albright, who all have brief cameos in the film alongside commentators like Jon Stewart, Mary Matalin, and James Carville.
Norris’ campaign eventually derails when a secret from his past is revealed and he ends up losing the Senate race. However, on the night of his concession speech, he meets a young woman named Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) hiding out in the men's bathroom. Although the politician and the young woman have little in common, they are soon making out with each other like overeager teenagers on a Friday night. Afterward, Norris uses his concession speech to talk about how fake and poll-driven his campaign was.
In a development that usually only happens in the movies, audiences love Norris's speech and after a while, he's ready for a political comeback. However, when he runs into Sellas again, he messes up his life's "plan” and a group of "adjusters," who could be compared to guardian angels, must work to keep the couple separated. According to the “big plan," the couple aren’t meant to be together, so the "adjusters" (led by John Slattery) must prevent their relationship from developing further.
The story's concept is interesting and many critics have focused on the questions that it raises about free will. Although such questions would be the worthy subject of a strong film, “The Adjustment Bureau” isn’t able to make good on its premise. For starters, the relationship at the core of the story never feels real. For the premise to work, audiences must want to see the couple together by the story’s conclusion. However, the relationship isn’t developed well from its inception so it’s difficult to care whether Norris ends up with Sellas. After the couple starts making out moments after meeting, the relationship feels forced and it never stops feeling that way.
As the story continues and Norris challenges the “adjusters” so that he can remain with his true love, the story unsuccessfully tries to create an exciting conflict, but even a chase sequence at the end of the film lacks thrills. For the most part, Norris's plan goes off without much disruption while the "adjusters" can barely keep up. On numerous occasions, the camera shows the "adjusters" looking shocked that Norris has outsmarted them. Eventually, there is a bit of dramatic tension during a confrontation but the sequence as a whole doesn't work.
I understand why "The Adjustment Bureau" would be an interesting starting point for a conversation about free will and faith, but the story isn't smart enough to focus on these topics in an intelligent way. Instead, audiences will be left with a weak romantic storyline and a couple of agents looking shocked that the film that they are starring in needs some adjustment itself.