Instead of memories determining who we are, Nolfi dissects (or at least attempts to dissect) how our predetermined path makes us who we are.
There is nothing really wrong with The Adjustment Bureau, it’s just very boring and mundane. When trying to pinpoint why the movie fails to have any lasting (or even immediate) impact, it’s hard to articulate. The film’s basis is interesting and thought-provoking, but not fully realized; the acting is decent even though the characters are incredibly flat and poorly written; and the cinematography is more concerned with showing off how cool New York is than focusing on the characters’ stories.
The movie also suffers because its central idea was used over a decade ago by writer/director Alex Proyas in Dark City. In his film, Proyas examines how memories shape who we are, and how humans would act in a world with no free will and where an outside influence decides everything that will happen. In The Adjustment Bureau, writer/director George Nolfi take a more emotional approach to how humans would react if they found out they had no free will; that God or some other entity had a plan that couldn’t be altered. Instead of memories determining who we are, Nolfi dissects (or at least attempts to dissect) how our predetermined path makes us who we are.
In the film, David Norris (Matt Damon) is the youngest Congressman in U.S. history and has just launched his campaign to become New York’s Senator. He is handsome, confidant, popular and hardworking. (Sound like anyone you know?) The night of the election, an embarrassing photo is released of him from several years earlier that has a severely negative impact on voters’ minds. Before giving his concession speech, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a beautiful contemporary ballet dancer who encourages him to do something absurd: to tell his supporters, and the world, the truth.
A few months later, David accidentally runs into Elise on a bus. Though a pleasant happenstance for David, this meeting was never supposed to happen. David’s path of Fate was supposed to lead him another direction, but an error caused Elise to enter his life again. In the world of The Adjustment Bureau, Fate is a real thing that lays out the path of each person’s life as determined by The Chairman, as He is called. David’s caseworker (or angel if you like), Harry (Anthony Mackie), makes a terrible mistake that could have a catastrophic ripple effect.
Though the personification of Fate as a team of men who plan and alter reality without human knowledge or interference is clever and intriguing, Nolfi struggles to give the story a sense of reality or believability. The rules which govern the Adjustment Bureau agents are, to say the least, weak and arbitrary, obviously used to explain holes in the screenplay and to justify aspects of the story.
Nolfi also confuses the audience as to whether we are watching a sci-fi movie (the script is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick) or a romantic thriller. One scene shows the Adjustment Bureau doing a brain cleanse on a character to reset what he knows. The tech agents use machines and devices to wipe the personality, but wouldn’t Agents of God (as the movie tells us the agents are) be able to do so without the aid of any apparatuses that exist in the physical world? Nolfi is more concerned with what looks cool than with his own credibility.
The reason Dark City was such a triumphant cinematic achievement is because Proyas decided what messages or ideas he wanted to convey and then worked backward to discover the devices that would work best to do so. In his case, a sci-fi movie was the perfect vehicle. Nolfi, on the other hand, has taken a cool concept by a talented author and attempted to make an entertaining movie rather than a solid, plausible film. | Matthew F. Newlin