We’ve seen our fair share of stories related to mysterious men in black before. From the titular characters in Men in Black, to the observers in Fox’s Fringe television show, the idea of persons working to push an unknown agenda is not a new concept. The latest story to cash in on this theme is Universal Pictures’ The Adjustment Bureau.
The Adjustment Bureau is based on a short story written by Philip K. Dick, visionary author of the stories behind many other films including Total Recall, Minority Report and Blade Runner. As many of Dick’s stories, The Adjustment Bureau’s worked fine on paper, but the film adaptation is less than stellar. Sadly, as many of the film adaptations of Dick’s work, The Adjustment Bureau is a lackluster adoption of the story.
The film follows David Norris (Matt Damon), a Senate-hopeful who runs into Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) on election night. This chance meeting goes against “the plan,” an arbitrary plot device that is never fully explained. Norris falls quickly in love with this woman and their lives are changed forever. After another chance encounter some time later, the Adjustment Bureau makes themselves known to Norris. He is told that he is never to contact this woman again or tell anyone of the Bureau’s existence. It is never made clear why the two are not meant to be together, and after seeing how shallow these characters are, it doesn’t really matter.
It would be impossible to spoil too much of this film as it is all laid out within the first 20 minutes. There are no plot twists and everything so painfully obvious that it would be hard to enjoy this movie if you have an intellect any higher than that of a 10-year old. Filmgoers are spoon fed the plot and explained everything, except for the major plot holes that are leftovers of an amateur-level screenplay. It is embarrassing that a film this incomplete was released from a major production studio, especially when marketed to an audience that has been treated to such high-quality films like Inception, Green Zone, and Repo Men in the past year alone.
The film is painful to watch, especially seeing the actors behind this movie struggle with the film’s script. The actor’s performances are not bad. Rather to the contrary, a majority of the performances are near flawless. This is especially true of veteran actor Matt Damon. However, good acting can only do so much for a bad screenplay; and the story of The Adjustment Bureau is too far gone to be saved.
The biggest problem I have with the story is how they try to hide plot holes with branding that the film is “up to the user’s interpretation.” The movie’s plot is based around the plan of a never-seen character called “the chairman.” It is never explained who this man is, there are references in the film that he is god or an alien. Glaring omissions from the plot line, like why the Chairman’s plan was changed, a point key to the plot line of the film, make it impossible to enjoy if you put any thought into it. The final action scene of the film introduces the most asinine plot device of the whole film. Agents of the Adjustment Bureau have magical hats that change the way our world functions. You read correctly — magical hats. These hats allow the agents to manipulate the world in arbitrary ways, like cause coffee to spill and have floorboards move slightly. There is no rhyme or reason to the types of things that the antagonists have control over. Perhaps the most ridiculous power these hats embody is the ability of the wearer to open a door and transport to a different location. It is never explained how these doors work, or where the power came from, just that it exists. This is the sort of the absurd trope that one would expect from a b-grade television special, not a high-budget Hollywood film.
The marketing team behind The Adjustment Bureau has targeted the film to two distinct audiences, moviegoers who like action films and religious people. However, this film is a love story with a forced subplot about free-will versus pre-determination and caters to neither audience which the film is advertised to. The entirety of action in this film is limited to the last few minutes of the film and consists of no more than a simple chase which is extremely hard to follow. The story however pivots on a character, who is loosely defined as “god” and is meant to be interpreted by religious persons as such. This creates a false connection to each viewer which Universal Studios has used to pad the bottom line of the gross income by targeting churches