Philosophers have endlessly debated the concept of Fate vs. Free Will. If destiny has a plan in mind for us, then free will is an illusion – all of our choices have been predetermined. Then again, if we do have free will, and everything that happens in the universe is random, then why do some events in our lives seem more meaningful than coincidence, as if they were meant to happen?
This debate underlies the story of The Adjustment Bureau, and while it does little to advance the argument either way, some interesting ideas lift the film beyond the standard romantic thriller fare.
Shadowy figures, dressed in retro-60’s style, it’s the Bureau’s job to intervene in human affairs to keep the divine Plan of their “Chairman” on course. When someone is about to divert from the Plan, the Bureau nudges that person in another direction, either through something as simple as spilling their coffee, or more drastic, like freezing the world and altering their thoughts. Either way, the Plan is preserved, and humanity is none the wiser.
The film has fun with showing the different levels of responsibility in this strange organization, but occasionally it stretches the metaphor a little too thin in an effort to keep religion out of the story. It seems clear these men are meant to be angels, but spiritual concepts are studiously avoided.
Anyway, as powerful as they seem to be, they aren’t infallible. Harry (Anthony Mackie), assigned to aspiring politician David Norris (Matt Damon), falls asleep at his post, causing a chain reaction that throws two major wrenches into the Plan. First, David learns about the Bureau. Second, and worse, he comes into contact with Elise (Emily Blunt), the woman of his dreams. They fall in love immediately, and this is a relationship that is not on Plan.
Apprehended by Harry’s boss, Richardson (John Slattery), David is warned to never reveal what he has seen to anyone, and also to stay away from the girl. But David is an impulsive sort, and, deeply in love with Elise, he won’t be denied. Eventually, as David overcomes more and greater obstacles in his path, the question becomes whether true love can win out over fate – whether he will give in and let her go, or risk being “reset”, his mind erased so that the Plan can be put back on course.
This is the kind of film where someone is always explaining something, in an effort to make sure the audience is keeping up with what’s going on. But there’s also a nice mix of action as well – it’s fun watching David turn the tables on the masters of fate. Damon and Blunt are just right – a necessity, since the movie wouldn’t work at all unless we believe in their relationship. The other performances are also good, particularly Terence Stamp as a heavy-hitter brought in to resolve the situation.
It’s a romance, to be sure, but both men and women should find it appealing.
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