The Adjustment Bureau: Theological SciFi for Romantics

In Philip K. Dick’s 1954 short story “The Adjustment Team,” a dog barks one minute too late, causing a ripple effect that changes the course of the universe. In George Nolfi‘s The Adjustment Bureau, a loose adaptation of Dick’s story, Matt Damon catches a bus he’s supposed to miss and sets off a chain of events that force the men of the bureau to step in. Nolfi’s film is much more a romance than a scifi thriller. It’s exposition-heavy with more conversations than chases and addresses the philosophical catch-22 of predestination versus free will in an attractive little package.

David Norris (Damon) is a charming frontrunner for the New York Senate but while his devil-may-care attitude attracts young voters, it also causes controversy along the campaign trail. While practicing a speech in the men’s room, Norris encounters Elise (Emily Blunt), who got caught crashing a wedding and is hiding out in the bathroom. Sparks fly all over the bathroom and Elise inspires Norris to deliver an overly Blunt speech about how campaigns transform candidates into retarded children who can’t dress themselves. But according to “the plan,” Norris and Elise are never supposed to meet again.

Bureau agent Harry (Anthony Mackie) is supposed to make sure Norris spills coffee on himself, causing him to miss a bus. But Harry falls dozes off and Norris makes it on the bus, which Elise happens to be on. BOOM! Damon and Blunt have some serious chemistry in every scene together. But their encounter on the bus completely screws up Norris’ fate because if they fall in love, both of their pre-arranged futures are void. So the Bureau and their fedoras intervene.

For all their power, the Bureau agents, including a delightfully frustrated John Slattery (Sterling from Mad Men), never come off as threatening. Even when they threaten to wipe clean Norris’ brain – a last resort if he refuses to cooperate – you can tell that they don’t really want to. They’re 9 to 5 schmucks like everyone else and hate working overtime. Agent Harry even questions their work; whether manipulating people’s lives from behind the curtain is a noble profession or immoral. And yes, the fedoras do give them a special power I won’t divulge. But I do get into some spoilers below.

This is where the film’s theological musings and my spoilers come in. The agents of the Bureau are, simply put, sharply-dressed angels. They’re not aliens or some kind of superior race who want to play puppet master. They just make sure God’s master plan rolls out as planned. It worked for me. In a way the film’s philosophy even enhances the romance and makes the finale overlooking the Manhattan skyline sort of perfect.

Yes, the The Adjustment Bureau is a “love conquers all” movie but thanks to its great cast it never feels fake or heavy-handed. I’d even call it a *gasp* “feel good movie.” Like I mentioned before, Damon and Blunt have natural chemistry and each scene makes you root for them even more. During the chase scenes you even feel like the tension is being treated with kid gloves and everything will be alright. So while it teases heavy, philosophical and theological concepts, it ends up just mediating with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

This review originally appeared on the Mishka Bloglin