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Fate Goes Nowhere in The Adjustment Bureau

Fate Goes Nowhere in <i>The Adjustment Bureau</i>

DVD Release Date: June 21, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: March 4, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image)
Genre: Thriller, Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: George Nolfi
Actors: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery, Jon Stewart, Michael Kelly, Anthony Mackie

In all six seasons of the popular TV show LOST, there were always more questions than answers—and the same is true of Matt Damon’s new movie The Adjustment Bureau.

Unfortunately, that’s all these respective entertainment experiences share in common, a shame considering The Adjustment Bureau had potential in spades, thanks to a fascinating premise and the usually reliable acting of Matt Damon.

Truth be told, it always took a significant leap of faith—and logic—to get fully invested in LOST, given that smoke monsters often popped up out of nowhere and the characters’ lives intersected in the most bizarre ways. All the strange turns of events were never in vain, however. No matter how out there, these plot points inevitably helped spark interesting conversation about deeper existential issues, something the filmmakers try in The Adjustment Bureau, but never get around to fleshing out.

The main problem is that The Adjustment Bureau over-promises and under-delivers right from the start. On the movie’s poster, it suggests that viewers should “fight for your fate.” That, along with the movie’s trailer and decidedly Inception-esque aesthetic, eventually sets the stage for a lively debate about fate and free will that never happens.

Sure, screenwriter and first-time director George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum, Ocean’s Twelve) liberally  interjects all the right buzzwords like ripple effect and vaguely spiritual suggestions of a “Higher Power” to convince us he’s got a method to the madness. Without providing any context, however, all we’re left with is a bunch of why-did they-even bother-going-there moments since no one ever bothered laying any groundwork.

Less of a thinking person’s thriller and more of a romance with a slightly sci-fi twist, The Adjustment Bureau merely glosses over the discussion of whether or not we control our own destiny. And given how much time we see David (Damon) running from danger in the course of an hour and a half, you’d half expect that Damon is playing Jason Bourne again. But if David was Bourne, well, those mysterious men in fedoras would’ve been toast rather than these vaguely menacing presences determined to keep his life on its proper course.

Of course, the best laid plans fail sometimes, and that’s precisely what happens when Harry (Anthony Mackie from The Hurt Locker) forgets to make David spill his coffee on his way to work. And because of that seemingly innocuous error, David has a major Wizard of Oz moment and sees behind a curtain he wasn’t ever supposed to. In fact, his first day of work is downright creepy because his co-workers are basically frozen in place as the men in fedoras make an “adjustment.”

Now that David has seen what they’re capable of, the gray-suited guys with the animated Moleskine notebooks that chart David’s daily life need to make sure he doesn’t go around telling people about this. So they threaten to reboot him if he utters a word, meaning all his memories, not to mention life as he knows it, will be gone for good. Worse yet, he’s told he’ll never see Elise (Emily Blunt) again.

This revelation, not impending lobotomy, is the most devastating for David, even if we’re not exactly sure why. After all, in classic rom-com fashion, we’re supposed to believe solely in the power of the meet-cute. Yes, David and Elise shared some flirty banter in the bathroom of The Waldorf Astoria after he lost his senatorial bid, but those sparks don’t instantly translate into “woman of your dreams” material.

The filmmakers would have us believe otherwise, though. No matter how scary and powerful his enemies are, David is still convinced he’s gotta get this girl. Since his calls won’t go through and the plans to drop by her dance studio were violently thwarted, he does the next best thing, namely hoping for a chance encounter on the bus she rides to work. Yes, David is anything if not persistent, and he rides that same bus for three years before he bumps into Elise again. As you probably guessed, this also wasn’t part of the “plan,” so The Adjustment Bureau is forced to step up their efforts to separate David and Elise for good.

As the moments tick on by, the story only gets more ridiculous. To try and make any sense out of the details, not to mention the particularly sappy ending, is ultimately an exercise in futility. If anything, it only underscores the biggest adjustment that needed to be made—not placing all the importance on David and Elise’s romance, which leads to nothing more than lame, “love is all you need” platitudes.


  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking, plus a drug is injected into David so he’ll cooperate with the fedora-donning menaces.
  • Language/Profanity: The PG-13 allotment of f-bombs (two), plus Elise extends her middle finger toward someone she’s frustrated with. Sh-- and as- also used several times and God’s name is taken in vain and paired with da-- once.
  • Sex/Nudity: David and Elise are shown having sex while they’re dating. The scene is all shadowy, so nothing is really shown, aside from kissing. An embarrassing photograph of David in a local newspaper is alluded to on several occasions. He eventually loses the election as a result.
  • Violence: When David’s life doesn’t go according to plan, a jarring car accident is caused between a cab and a civilian driver to get him back on track. Nobody dies, but there are injuries.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.