The Adjustment Bureau

Posted on March 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm

The first great movie of 2011 is thought-provoking, exciting, and swooningly romantic. Writer/director George Nolfi takes on the biggest questions of all — faith and doubt, fate and free will, God, love, the meaning of existence — with an absorbing story about who we are and why we do what we do.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, a popular politician with a bad habit of losing control that has just cost him an election. As he gets ready to deliver a safe and appropriate concession speech, he has a brief meeting with a young woman and feels an immediate connection. And then he gives the concession speech and it is frank and outspoken and of course, appealing to the voters who find his candor refreshing. His political prospects are bright again, but he can’t stop thinking about the girl.

We’re used to seeing people, especially people in power, surrounded by fixers, arrangers, smoothers, tweakers — publicists, managers, agents, advisers, lawyers. David has those, including his best friend/campaign manager. But there is something different going on. There are men in hats giving each other odd directions with a strangely compelling sense of urgency, as though they are organizing a rocket launch. But why would someone be deployed to spill coffee on David’s shirt?

To keep him off a bus, for one reason (though the deeper reason will not be revealed for a while). But the coffee isn’t spilled in time. He gets on the bus. And the girl from election night is there. Her name is Elise (Emily Blunt). She is a dancer. And David is besotted with her.

The men in hats are from an Adjustment Bureau. They have enormous power and a secret system of doorways that allow them to bypass miles in a few steps. The hat men step out of the doorways like a less cheery version of the minions who keep things running smoothly at Disney World.

The Adjustment Bureau doesn’t want David and Elise to be together, and they are acting on the highest authority. But even that authority cannot stop the most powerful force in the universe.

A knockout cast and imaginative visuals provide a sumptuous setting for the romance. Anthony Mackie, moving with the graceful economy of a cheetah, is the Adjuster who has come to care for his charge. Other Adjusters include “Mad Men’s” John Slattery as a harried bureaucrat and Terence Stamp as the ruthless enforcer brought in when all else has failed. Damon makes David intelligent, brave, sensitive, vulnerable, curious, and great-hearted, and Blunt makes Elise everything a man like that would be willing to risk it all for. There are a few surprising rough edges for such a well-crafted story. Elise’s reason for being in the men’s room where she meets David for the first time is oddly off-putting, a loose end that is never explained. And a story David tells about his political inspiration would have to have occurred about 15 years before he was born, unless he is the youngest-looking baby boomer in history. But what does work in this movie works exceptionally well, a bracing engagement with the reason for everything that gives us a good reason to remember this movie for a long time.

Parents should know that this film has a non-explicit sexual situation, some drinking, brief strong language, characters in peril with some violence including car crash, and discussion of pain and loss.

Family discussion: What are your views on fate vs. free will? How did each side push the other in different directions?

If you like this, try: “Blade Runner,” a much darker film based on a story by the same author, and Beliefnet’s interviews with stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt and Anthony Mackie.

Related Tags:


Action/Adventure Based on a book Date movie Fantasy Romance Science-Fiction Spiritual films

13 Replies to “The Adjustment Bureau”

  1. I haven’t seen this movie yet. My husband and I saw the trailer for it and it reminds us of the watchers in Fringe. Have you ever seen the show Fringe? From the trailer it looks like the idea came from the Fringe series and your review. Does it just appear that way and actually isn’t? Thanks!

  2. I don’t want to give away too much, Rach, but I can say that the idea came from a short story by Philip K. Dick and the characters in the movie have a couple of very important differences from the watchers in “Fringe.” If you see the movie, let me know what you think!

  3. I agree with you that this is the first great movie of 2011 and the most romantic film I’ve seen in a long time. I also believe that this movie has an interesting religious allegory that I as an atheist and you as a person of faith seem to both be able to respect in an interesting way. This alone is worth the price of admission. When you throw in the electric chemistry of Blunt and Damon this is a movie that is hard to stop thinking about. Please watch my review at the above and below URL.

  4. Hi Nell. While this movie is entertaining enough, I think an A- rating is pretty generous. Too many coincidences and loose ends, and too few explanations–or maybe I just tend to dislike quasi-occult films that require crafting one’s own explanations for all the weird goings-on. Overall, I’d have to say I’ve seen worse movies, but I’ve also seen far better ones.

  5. I sincerely love this website. It helps me so much in terms of deciding what my children can and cant watch. I have one question though: I was just wondering what diversity issues meant.

  6. Thank you so much, Mother of Four! I do this as a labor of love and feedback like yours makes it all worthwhile. Diversity issues relate to positive or negative or just insensitive depictions of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. I will point out both good and bad examples.
    My best to you and your family!

  7. The video of when Matt Damon gets on the bus and looks at Emily Blunt’s legs is just about the hottest piece of video out there at the moment. Notice how all movies that make tremendous profits include great leg of foot scenes. This was a genius marketing ploy on behalf of the maker’s of Adjustment Bureau. Showing Emily’s fantastic legs in sheer black pantyhose is going to bring in millions of movie goers. Amazing how something so simple will make so much money for the studio and equally amazing is the fact that there are a couple of studios that might not “get” the attraction of black nylons on the viewers and the profits to be made from that attraction.

  8. Yeah, I agree with Atlanta Roofing. That one second shot of legs in the black pantyhose sold me. In the movie, that scene on the bus where Matt Damon is stunned by how great her legs look, the viewer gets to see a few more shots of her legs because Matt spills coffee on her legs. Fantastic scene. Of course way too short. The producers should have taken advantage of having the gorgeous Emily Blunt’s legs and shown them a lot more. lol.

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