Monday, 13 June 2011

Film Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Does free will exist? Or are we all travelling along a predetermined path otherwise known as fate? It is a question that has long animated philosophers and religious freakazoids alike. And, if the latter is taken to be true, who or what determines our respective destinies? It is a question which The Adjustment Bureau, based on Philip K. Dick's short novel 'Adjustment Team', attempts to shed some light on in its own unique fashion.

State Senate hopeful David Norris (Damon) meets dancer Elise (Blunt) after suffering a landslide election defeat. Despite forming an instant connection, Norris is resigned to the fact he'll probably never see her again. That is until by chance he bumps into her months later. However, nefarious men soon show up, seemingly intent on keeping the two star-crossed lovers apart.

Director George Nolfi manages to create an intriguing shroud of mystery surrounding the seemingly ubiquitous entities trying to stop Norris and what they are. While there are most certainly Judeo-Christian theological implications at work - references to their boss, a 'Chairman' with 'a plan' - their true nature is never fully revealed. At one point Norris asks whether they are angels, to which the reply is "We've been called that. We're more like case officers". As if to further cast doubt, in one scene an 'Adjustment Team' at work clearly uses some form of technology, rather than waving a mystical God rod. In this sense, they might not necessarily be angels as religious doctrine describes them and therefore, if anything, what they are cannot be understood in any meaningful way.

It is this deliberate refusal to to deliver an exposition on the who, what and why which allows Nolfi to strike a reasonably satisfying balance between being entertaining without becoming bogged down by laborious explanations and intellectually intriguing without being pretentious. This allows for the main philosophical themes of the film to be explored better. Can we fight fate? Where does chance end and destiny begin? Who's really in control?

What really drives The Adjustment Bureau however are the sparks between Damon's determined yet feckless Norris and Blunt's charming allure, managed by Nolfi in such a way that Hollywood's serendipitous cliches can be wholly overlooked. Their intense connection is enamouring, flowing in sync with the events around them. When you see that all the forces of the universe are against them you can't help but get caught in the whirlwind of rooting for them; in a manner similar to when you begin rooting for the Germans in Das Boot.

And this, with the frantic dash at the end, is where you realise that actually The Adjustment Bureau falls into that romance cliche. At its core it is a love story told through the medium of science fiction. Nonetheless, Nolfi's execution is to be commended. Skimping on potentially prolix explanations and having robust characters keeps the pace quick, leaving the audience satisfied with its unanswered questions.