Hello everyone, for this second post I would like to talk about a movie that has not made a big bang when it was released, but still deserves much praise and recognition, The Adjustment Bureau, staring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Based on a novel from Philip K Dick, the movie has surely got a touch of science fiction, but it is actually more of a mix between different styles, including romantic comedy and political thriller.
The night David Norris (Matt Damon), a young politician running for the seat of New York senator, loses the election, he meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a young dancer who happens to be hiding in the men toilets where he is rehearsing his defeat speech. The bitter night looks like it is going to turn into a fairy tale, until strange men dressed as the members of an awkward mob start to interfere with the birthing love story and try to convince poor Matt that he must forget about Emily ( of course he is having none of it ). We soon find out that these gangsters are not real gangsters, but that they have the power to erase one’s memory as well as predict David’s every move, and that they are part of the Adjustment Bureau, an organization whose main purpose is to make sure that everything goes according to the plan… Whose plan might you wonder? Apparently, no less than God’s plan, God being referred to as “the chairman” by the members of the Adjustment Bureau. If it all sounds a bit too much to you, it is perfectly normal, because it is surely a bit far stretched, but actually, it does not really matter that much.
The reason why the movie still works in spite of its slightly ridiculous basis, is largely due to its two main actors’ talent, and the chemistry between them. The Adjustment Bureau could easily have been a romantic comedy, all science fiction aspects put aside, because each of the scenes between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt contains enough sparkles to make your heart skip a few beats. One of the great achievements of the script is that both characters are not presented as archetypes, but as human beings who have chosen two different paths. Yes, David Norris is a busy and ambitious politician, who might have forgotten to take care of his personal life, but we are spared with the numerous clichés usually linked to such a character. Even his best friend/ campaign director does not turn out to be a simple obstacle to the fulfillment of his love story, which could have been an easy option for the scriptwriter, but simply has his best interests at heart, including his personal well being, and just happens to have a different opinion on how to achieve this personal well being … Elise is an artist, but once again she is not depicted as the typical arty New Yorker, wearing loose pants, smoking weed and sharing a flat with dodgy friends. We understand that she has the opportunity to bring some poetry and some excitement in David’s life, but this is never stated too obviously. The look on his face when he sees her dance for the first time makes up for a thousand words. We are drawn to these characters because they are flawed, and therefore believable. They don’t hesitate to explore their weaknesses and constantly tease each other. This humor between them also serves another purpose, which is in contrast with the more tender scenes between them, who come across as subtle moments of relief and hope.
As I have hinted earlier, the movie constantly flirts with a certain ridiculousness, which comes from the unlikeness of the whole concept. After all, we are talking about angels moving through secret doors thanks to the hats they are wearing, and planning our every move with the help of a book containing ever changing sketches supposedly representing our ever changing destiny. This could have been either very cheesy (not unlike City of Angels staring Nicolas Cage, based on a story not too different from this one), or a complete mess, but strangely it almost always manages to stay on track. This is mainly due to the fact that the movie never takes itself too seriously, and does not pretend to be the science fiction offering of the decade. Unlike Prometheus, which I have reviewed in my previous post, The Adjustment Bureau does not aim for cinema fame, but instead settles for a more modest goal. Its main ambition is to entertain us, but it does raise some interesting questions along the way. We are keener to dwell on these questions because they are never introduced to us as a game changer, but rather as a fun puzzle that we must try to solve. The movie explores a main idea which is not a new one, but becomes quite intriguing as we go deeper into the story: we have the mere illusion of free choice, and therefore every so called meaningless event in our life leads us to the bigger picture, which we cannot escape.
This is where the members of the Adjustment Bureau step in, making sure that all the moments of our existence work together and take us where the “chairman” wants us to go. It is quite interesting to see destiny being treated as a simple working plan, the members of the Adjustment Bureau looking more like regular employees, suits who must deliver and perform… We are far from the typical angel representation, no wings and blurry halo here. The Adjustment Bureau is an administration like any other, with its hierarchy, its paperwork, and its bitter employees… These employees just happen to be immortal. The movie is driven by the opposition between this administration and David’s own expectations and desires.
In one of the early scenes, a member of the Adjustment Bureau must make sure that the young politician drops his coffee, which would prevent him from boarding on the bus where he would come across his soul mate for the second time in two days. There is a strong reason for the Adjustment Bureau to want to stop this blossoming love story. David is set to become a prominent politician (we understand that he might become president of the United States in a near future, that is if his love for Elise does not get in the way). There is a very interesting scene where Terrence Tramp’s character, a high ranked employee of the Adjustment Bureau, who is called in after all endeavors to stop the two lovers from pursuing their relationship have failed, explains to David that Elise would stop him from becoming a successful politician because ‘”she is enough”: David being perfectly happy, he would not need to fill any hole in his life with public recognition and personal glory. The young man is therefore left with a difficult choice, a choice between a life of perfect happiness and a secured chapter in History’s book, but the Adjustment Bureau is denying him this choice. What is at stake here is simply the right for every human being to chose between dreams, and deliberately ignore certain paths.
Do not expect gun fights, giant car chase scenes or high tech elements from this movie. Even the final scene, which sees Elise and David running through the Adjustment Bureau’s secret doors in order to escape their opponents, does not try to throw science fiction star dust in our eyes, but instead to make us share Elise’s feelings when she discovers that all that she knew before was wrong, and that one can move between two remote places in a heartbeat thanks to these secret doors …. Her confusion and her apprehension convey our own dizziness, and we get to share her emotions rather than focus on the uncommon visual elements that are displayed on the screen. It is actually quite refreshing to look at a movie with this kind of more subtle approach, one where the special effects are mere reflections of the human’ s complex intellect, and not a firework aimed at teenagers looking for an occupation during their summer holiday.
To finish, I must insist on Matt Damon’s incredible talent : after managing to approach a secret agent’s role in The Bourne movies, with enough physicality to make his character believable, but enough gentleness to make his own kind personality come through in every frame of the franchise, after picturing a total moron in Soderberg’s The Informant, while making that moron highly likable, he once more succeeds in polarizing two different aspects of one character, this time David’s ambition and his higher calling. The fact that he does it each time without it ever feeling forced makes it even more remarkable. He is neither the guy next door nor the typical Hollywood superstar, but instead plays in a league of his own, and I cannot wait to see what he still has in store for us.