Monday, May 28, 2012

The Dangers of Poor Middle Management: The Adjustment Bureau

"Do you believe in fate? (No.) Why not? (Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my life.) I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN."
Back when Morpheus and Neo were having this conversation in The Matrix, audiences knew straight away that control was a bad thing, and that by association, the agents of the system that oversaw that control must also be bad. It was a given that human beings should be allowed to make their own choices. David Norris (Matt Damon) stumbles into a similar predicament in The Adjustment Bureau, and be it God or robots, control is still a bad thing.
This is actually a very sweet, very tender film that is carried by Matt Damon's skill and validity as an actor and by the chemistry he shares with co-star Emily Blunt. There are no robots, no slowly cascading bullets, and not nearly enough techno in this film, which is unfortunate. Many viewers will expect at least some action driven carry-over from Damon's Bourne films (in which screenwriter/director George Nolfi was himself involved) but that doesn't happen either. If you walk into the theater expecting testosterone, you'll be disappointed, but if you're okay with seeing a (faith-based) love story, and you don't fall to pieces over a little rule-breaking, you'll probably enjoy yourself.

That said, there are problems in this film. The Adjustment Bureau exists to make sure the events on Earth run according to plan, a royal, worldly plan handed down in interactive manuals to Fedora-wearing gentlemen from an unseen Chairman. No one comes right out and says that The Chairman is God and that the hat-wearers Angels, but they almost do, and identifying this Bureau as such creates problems because they don't seem to be very good at their jobs. David Norris's issues start when his Bureau Agent oversleeps during a crucial moment in his particular plan, and as a result, David runs into Elise (Blunt), the exact woman from whom they're trying to keep him. Luckily, the rapport between David and Elise, from the very first moment they meet, is interesting, engaging, and literally creates the driving force for the entire film; the love story between them is a good one. Later, when Norris stumbles upon a very Twilight Zone moment of human bodies frozen in time as The Bureau "re-sets" one of his co-workers, the men in hats explain exactly who they are and what they do: 
1. We control everything.
2. Everything we control is based on The Chairman's Plan.
3. We don't care about what you want.
4. If you expose us, we'll erase your brain.
None of what they say really carries all that much weight in the run of things, mostly because David (and viewers) have no choice but to take all this seriously without ever being shown that these things are true or even possible, which is a leap of faith that some people probably won't accept. And there's the whole not-being-able-to-make-your-own-choices thing, which won't sit well with anyone who has been taught to believe that their God is a loving one. As it turns out, the rest of the film shows that The Adjustment Bureau really isn't all that effective, is poorly managed, and makes a lot of threats; all it takes to shake up the system is someone like David who won't take "no" for an answer (there's your rule-breaking). Beyond this, there are several great scenes that involve The Bureau's power, their means of exiting and entering the human world, and just the menacing look of the men in hats, especially in a group---those things are fun; the film could have been strengthened by more scenes that cast The Bureau in a light of strength or ability. It's hard, though, to get past just how many times they keep getting it wrong, as well as the bigger concept that The Chairman doesn't really care about David's desires or feelings, and seems to employ a bunch of blowhard stooges to do His bidding. Send them all to Agent Smith for "Adjustment Re-training" and you've got a bulls-eye.