This is a story of boy meets girl, and then how fate tries to tear them apart. This is not the first word we’ve heard on fate, or kismet, and it certainly won’t be the last. It’s a bit outrageous (but nonetheless riveting) to think that our lives have already been plotted. How our existence has one path and when we deviate from said route, fate steps in to right the course. Fate, in this instance, are tangible beings. And meticulously dressed ones at that. They are the Adjustment Bureau: a would-be all-male group of super heroes. Except their job isn’t to save the world, rather mess it up, one spilled coffee at a time.
The film succeeds through the appreciable talents of Matt Damon. He may be People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, but he’s also no slouch in the acting department. His greatest strength is in the audience forgetting they’re watching Matt Damon. In School Ties, he was an anti-Semitic school boy; Courage Under Fire, a drug-riddled military man. In back-to-back years he was an amnestic C.I.A agent (The Bourne Identity) and one half of a siamese twin with relationship issues (Stuck on You).
In Bureau, Damon is David Norris, a politician on the fast track. At twenty-four years of age, he was the youngest congressman in history; now, he has his sights on the Senate seat for the “great state of New York.” Alas, you can take the politico out of the frat house, but you can’t take the frat house out of the politico. As he enjoys a ten point lead in the election, an incriminating photo surfaces which retroactively removes David from the race. While prepping his concession speech in his ofice (see: men’s restroom), Norris is interrupted by Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt): a wedding crasher hiding from security. Their initial encounter is fleeting–a few measly minutes; the effect is everlasting. The concept of love at first sight is somewhat preposterous, or at the very least, high contestable. That being said, the moment David and Elise meet, there is “something” there; an obvious physical attraction no doubt, but also something deeper, something uniquely profound.
After another chance meeting–this time on a city bus, the Bureau steps in. The job has been passed to Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) to separate the would be lovers. It is implied that Mitchell has a history with the Norris family. It is because of this that he takes David aside and briefly explicates the far-fetched circumstances. Agent Richardson (John Slattery, doing his best Roger Sterling impression) tells David that he cannot be with Elise, because “it’s not in the plan.” He does so by nodding not so discreetly to the heavens above. This is one of many religious implications littered throughout. It’s never explained who the Bureau is–be it supernatural spirits or time-traveling prophets. The subject of chance versus predestination is argued by David and his oppressors.
Thompson (Terrence Stamp) joins the party and explains that if David stays with Elise, both will forgo their dreams: he of White House glory, she a world class dancer. (He also explains how the Bureau can be thanked for giving humans the Renaissance period, but after stepping back a few paces, to see how humans would react, WWII and the Holocaust happened, among other horrific events. Why they never thought to “accidentally” push Hitler in front of a train is a whole other can of worms.) Thompson seems resigned to David’s decision…until he and his team do everything in their power to avert another rendezvous. Confusion arises when the Bureau tells David he has a choice, only to punish him and those around him for said choices. Free will is told to be readily available, and these god-like figures seem to have a purpose, but their actions lean heavily towards the petty, like a child ripping off the wings of an insect.
Director George Nolfi does an admirable job here in his voyage effort. The trailers insinuate a sci-fi mind bender, but in reality there is a romance at its core. I even laughed a few times, at the clever writing and sometimes sheer absurdity of the goings-on. There are some silly necessities. Part of the Bureau’s uniform is a classy fedora–not only a cutting fashion choice, but they also act as pass keys that turn regular doorways into transporters. (Also, if you’re going to hold a covert meeting, do so in a rainstorm, or the bathtub.)
Bureau is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team,” which is to say they share the word Adjustment in their respective titles. The story drifts in the second act as David can’t seem to make up his mind of whether to choose professionally or emotionally (an easy decision in my mind); the fantastic chemistry between Damon and Blunt, along with the stimulating narrative more than make up for it. My only regret is that the conclusion had dared to be braver.
We are faced with choices every day–some more consequential than others. Whether to the take the subway or walk to work; stopping in to your favourite restaurant; even hitting the snooze button one more time in the morning. All of these create ripple effects, that although we can’t see, often times modify important periods in our lives. David has his own designs on what he deems crucial. His hopes lay with the old adage that love conquers all–even well-dressed corporate angels.