The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) movie poster

(2011) director George Nolfi
viewed: 09/18/2011

Suspension of disbelief.  Something that is necessary in viewing almost any narrative movie, extra necessary in stories of science fiction or fantasy.

Dragons?  Aliens? Weird science? Ewoks?  Everyone has their own level of willingness to just let the story take them in and play along.  It’s part of how narrative films work, pull you in, make you forget all of the artifice, make you forget yourself and simply go with the flow of the narrative.  And hopefully enjoy.

By most measurements, The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t feature lots of wild effects, alien creatures, lots of FX.  It’s mostly a thriller by its idea.  The idea is adopted from a story by science fiction great, Philip K. Dick.  It’s about an agency that controls all events, powerfully manipulating everyone in a variety of ways to make everything happen in a predetermined order.  In the movie, these men all wear suits and fedora-style hats and answer to “the chairman”, who dictates the whole shebang.

Matt Damon stars as the guy who meets a woman (Emily Blunt) accidentally but falls for her big time.  Then after one of the agents misses a cue, Damon meets Blunt again, in a great happenstance of fortuity.  But this is a predetermined world and so the agents descend upon Damon, take the girl’s phone number from him, burn it, tell him about how the whole world works and that he’s not allowed to tell anyone about it.

But of course, Damon is really in love and has to buck the system.  And the agent who screwed up, also seems to sympathize with him, offers him some help.  This doesn’t sit well with the rest of the agents.  Drama and action ensues.

On the bright side, Blunt and Damon have charm.  I’ve never really liked Blunt in anything before, but here she is charming.  And Damon, while not my type, is a very likable fellow.  So, they’re good.

What is not good is the ridiculous premise.  If these guys have all this power, to appear here and there, make little part of a floor jump up to trip Damon, all kinds of knowledge and tricks, it is so ridiculous that they need to expose themselves to Damon in order to take his wallet out, steal the girl’s number, and burn it.  They freeze the whole rest of the world to do this.  With all their omnipotence, they aren’t so all effective.

The metaphors aren’t too hard to read.  Free will?  Predestination? An all-controlling paternal power who dictates the whole thing, controls the whole thing?  I get it.

But I kept finding frustration with the whole concept and the explanations.  I was constantly thinking about the cheap artifice of the narrative, the opposite of a successful story.  What I faced throughout was a suspension of belief.  And really, for all the rest of the thing to work, I needed to be in it, not outside of it.

But then again, maybe that was how it was meant to be.

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