As a Christian, I’ve grown up with the debate between free will and predestination. Is my faith in Christ my choice, or did God choose me so that I had no choice in the matter? The Adjustment Bureau, a new film from established writer and first-time director George Nolfi explores the balance between fate and free will in a story that spans the genres.
“The Adjustment Bureau” is all things to all people. For sci-fi fans it’s based on (though largely changed from) a short story by Philip K. Dick,who wrote “Blade Runner.” For thriller fans, it’s written and directed by one of the writers of “Ocean’s 12” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” For comedy fans, the dialogue is witty and fresh, and for romantics, it’s a love story.
The Adjustment Bureau is the story of David Norris (Matt Damon), a young politician on the verge of becoming one of New York’s senators. A chance meeting with a ballerina named Elise (Emily Blunt) threatens to ruin his dreams however, when the agents of Fate itself step in and try to steer him back onto the political course outlined for him, and away from the woman he loves. Ultimately, they give him a choice: a chance to change the world, or the freedom to be with the woman he loves.
I’m typically not a fan of films that are written and directed by the same person. Having a director who can reign in a writer, or who knows how to edit out needless dialogue or scenes is essential. Unless you’ve got the talent of George Nolfi, who has kept the dialogue real throughout the film.
The acting is solid. Damon and Blunt play off each other expertly, and the agents of fate are neither friendly or villainous. They are doing their job.
The agents of Fate, an individual who is never shown and only referred to as the Chairman, do their job almost as government employees – in a clinical, methodical manner. They slip up and make mistakes like everyone else. These “angels” as they say some have called them, are neither good nor bad. They are the force that keeps the world from coming unhinged, and they can be interpreted easily as a super-secret government organization of Orwellian proportions or as the servants of the Almighty. This neutrality leaves questions of whether their actions are right or wrong to the audience.
Aside from the philosophical question of fate and free will as the foundation of the film, which I enjoyed, the film was refreshingly non-political. While Damon’s character is a Democrat, political viewpoints are ignored. In addition, while the film can be viewed as a commentary on the ultimate in big government, it can just as easily be compared to God and religion. Ultimately, it’s a film that viewers can walk away from with either a happy contentment, or enough thought food to digest for a week.
And that’s how Nolfi wanted it. In an interview with reporters recently in Washington, D.C., Nolfi, who has a background in philosophy and political science, said, “I didn’t set out to write anything religious.” But added, “Any version of fate has some sense of a higher power if you want to take it literally.”
Nolfi said that he was careful to ensure that the Bureau could be easily interpreted as a metaphor for overbearing institutions like governments. And in advanced screenings in Europe, that’s how audiences viewed it.
“I probably talked to 150 people in London, Dublin, Berlin,” he said. “Not a single person said ‘is this religious?’ Here everybody asks me. There, nobody.”
Europe’s take aside, Nolfi said that in the U.S., among religious viewers, the film has received a strong response.
Whatever your views on religion, or taste in film, The Adjustment Bureau has something for everyone. And as a story free from the nuisance of political preaching and filled with good acting, writing and story, it’s one I highly recommend.