Destiny is bureaucracy, and true love conquers all — even meddling Angels roaming our streets in the guise of grey flannel suit-wearing 1960’s ad execs. Marketed shamelessly as an amalgam of films I like to refer to as ‘The Bourne Inception’, The Adjustment Bureau is a velvety-smooth chocolate movie romance with a thin, easily dissolved sci-fi candy shell around it.
Hollywood has given us “Love vs. Order”, and “Free Will vs. Fate” metaphors wrapped in shiny, mind-bending science fiction packages for years now. 12 Monkeys, Inception, and The Matrix are all examples of how connections of the heart rise above any obstacle, whether it’s time travel, dreamscapes, or the will of sentient machines to supplant humanity. No matter how many bullets fly across the screen, or how many killer robots explode, it’s always about that damn pretty girl.
The love story that shatters the cosmos this time around is shared by Matt Damon as up-and-coming political wunderkind David Norris, and Emily Blunt as charmingly snarky ballerina Elise Sellas. Damon gets all googly-eyed for Blunt’s manic pixie dream-girl at their meet-cute in a men’s bathroom following a failed bid for a U.S. Senate seat. David and Elise later meet again on a city bus, more flirting occurs, Elise gives David her digits, and romance is in full bloom.
However, the smile is quickly wiped off David’s face when he encounters the titular Bureau, who threaten to lobotomize him if he doesn’t stay away from Elise. It seems the Bureau’s chief, “The Chairman” (no, not Frank Sinatra, sadly), writes a plan for everyone’s life in cool little notebooks with nifty animated maps. It’s the Bureau’s duty to make sure no one deviates from “The Plan”, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure David stays on his pre-destined path.
But John Slattery -doomed to be forever entombed in his neatly pressed Mad Men wardrobe – and his staff of stuffy, hipster fedora-clad, Heavenly paper-pushers don’t inspire fear or dread so much as an overwhelming sense of frustration. Their tricks to disrupt cell phone service and cause traffic accidents to impede Damon’s pursuit of Blunt come cross as an exasperating trip to the DMV or the endless loop of red tape and paperwork one encounters when trying to register for classes at a State College than anything truly malevolent. It’s only when Terrence Stamp, a Bureau agent with the subtle moniker of “The Hammer”, gets called in to clean up the mess, does the film have any sense of weight to it. His icy speeches to Damon regarding why humanity has been denied free will, and the repercussions of pursuing a doomed relationship, are somewhat creepy and effective -but it comes across as too little, too late.
Ultimately the film is held together by the terrific chemistry between Blunt and Damon. Despite the romantic movie clichés, I really wanted to see them persevere in the end and I felt the suspense as they ran to save their love. First-time writer/director George Nolfi, who also penned the last Bourne installment, does an admirable job with the pacing; but the film lacked a sense of scope, and had a nagging feeling of cheapness to it that I felt would’ve been eradicated in the hands of a more seasoned genre director like Christopher Nolan. The ending also felt anti-climactic; I would’ve liked to learn more about the mysterious Bureaucracy that governs our existence, and why they wear those cool magic hats.