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Monday, March 14, 2011


            Like many Sci-Fi thrillers before it The Adjustment Bureau plays with the conflict between predestination and free will. And it has a lot of fun tossing a few ideas while Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are chased across New York by the adjusters of fate. But it doesn’t even try to arrive at a conclusion. This is not a deeply philosophical movie, and it doesn’t even pretend to be one; it is a pulpy action/romance movie and it enjoys playing with the implications of these genres.
The Adjustment Bureau 

            The movie begins after David Morris’ (Matt Damon) has lost a campaign for New York Senator. The loss was unexpected; so when David has to give his concession speech he panics and locks himself in the men’s restroom of the Waldorf Astoria. There is the men’s room is Elise. Someone who should naturally not be in the men’s room and was not even invited to the wedding upstairs. “I just felt like crashing it”. Their meeting is an explosive meet-cute. It seems Elise (Emily Blunt) is the girl of David’s dreams; and it doesn’t take much for Elise to inspire David to give a concession speech that basically guarantees him a senate seat for the next election. Life suddenly had a positive turn for David Morris. There is only one problem; David was never supposed to meet Elise. That was not part of the plan.

            There is an army of adjusters out there, whose job is to tweak small things here and there so everything happens according to the master plan. You have seen these adjusters around; they wear trench coats and fedoras. Whose plan are they fixing? Who knows. The adjusters simply call him The Chairman. And the adjusters need to set The Chairman’s plan back on track. It doesn’t take long for David to realize there are men with trench coats and fedoras following him around; they tend to stick out because that getup fell out of fashion sixty years ago. David confronts these strange men, and they warn him. He has to stay away from Elise; the plan is for him to become senator and this can’t happen if he is with her. But the first rule of romantic action movies is to never stand between the hero and his girl because he will do everything he can to end up with her. And so the plot develops into a cat and mouse chase through New York as David tries to argue in favor of free will. Yes he can have the girl, and yes, he can have the senate seat because he chooses to.

You think they choose their getup?

            But the thing about genre movies is that they follow a predetermined structure so arguably the characters in them have no free will what so ever. So if David, the hero, gets the girl in the end, was he really exercising free will? And what about Elise? She was dragged into this and no one ever asked her what she wanted. Why would they; she is just the female lead in a romantic action movie.

            Regardless of its formulaic structure the movie is damn fun, and seriously exciting. It works because Matt Damon and Emily Blunt work perfectly together. It is the type of movie that is really about watching two actors and the chemistry between them. It is strongest at first and it sort of dwindles by the end. But by then we are so immersed in the chase that we have stopped paying attention to the romance until the final scene where it takes the center stage once again.

            And during the chase the film employs a New York that you have never scene before in movies. The classical movie New York City is a cliché. The New York of The Adjustment Bureau is not the New York of the movies or for tourists; it is also not the gritty New York for real New Yorkers. It lays somewhere in the middle. I think it is the New York of David Morris and Elise, two people who technically don’t live in New York City (read Manhattan), but still see it every day because they work there. And complimenting this unseen scenery they are the adjusters. Who by simply wearing trench coats and fedoras, they instantly set the mood on ominous.  

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