The Adjustment Bureau

Why? Because. These two words sum up what is wrong with the premise behind “The Adjustment Bureau,” the new film starring Matt Damon. Simply put, there is no compelling motivation driving the story.

The titular bureau, you see, are these men in overcoats and hats who control our destinies. According to the Adjustment Bureau we do not have free will, only the illusion of free will. Everything, we are expected to believe, is controlled by the bureau. So when Damon’s character argues over the issue of free will with one of the agents, played by the always terrific Terence Stamp, the scene makes no sense. I mean if there is no free will, then how can Damon have the free will to argue?

When Damon’s senator character falls for a very attractive up and coming dancer, played by Emily Blunt, this violates the bureau’s plan. These two, we are told, were originally supposed to meet but then the plan changed, so now they are not supposed to meet, but they have met anyway. So what is wrong with two attractive people meeting and starting a relationship? Nothing that I can tell and the movie gave me no reason to think otherwise. All we are told is that this union was not in the bureau’s plan. At one point a bureau agent tells Damon that he and his intended will have successful careers only if they stay apart, but will have unsuccessful careers if they insist on remaining together. Really? Why?

So then the burning dramatic question (yawn) is will Damon choose successful careers over love or will love conquer all? It’s a big budget Hollywood movie with a star. You tell me.

“The Adjustment Bureau” actually reminded me of “The City on the Edge of Forever,” my favorite “Star Trek” episode. Briefly, the “Star Trek” crew goes back in time to America shortly before WWII. Captain Kirk falls in love with a peace activist played by Joan Collins. Spock figures out that Ms. Collins’ character’s fate is to be hit by a car and killed. Kirk, of course, wants to prevent the accident. Spock explains that if Collins’ character does not die when she is supposed to, her activities as a peace activist will delay America’s entry into WWII and, as a result, the U.S. will lose the war. At the fateful moment Kirk has to be physically restrained by Spock from rescuing Ms. Collins, as we hear the accident occuring off screen. In other words “The City on the Edge of Forever” presents a compelling reason why the couple cannot be together (the country will lose a world war) and so is a memorable piece of work. In contrast, “The Adjustment Bureau” does not give a significant reason why our main characters cannot be together and therefore I, for one, did not care about them or their predicament.

“The Adjustment Bureau” never quite gets its tone right. It is advertised as a thriller but in its execution it cannot seem to make up its mind as to whether it is a thriller, a comedy or a philosophical dissertation on free will.

In addition, in a movie, we want to see our hero and heroine take actions which solve their problem. Not to give anything away, but “The Adjustment Bureau’s” ending is a classic example of a “Deus Ex Machina,” in which one of the bureau agents shows up and verbally resolves all issues. How dull is that? It is too bad that the Adjustment Bureau could not have altered the fate of its own script.

“The Adjustment Bureau” opens on March 4.

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About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on February 23, 2011, in New. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Watched “Carlos” –a six hour French television epic that can be spoken in the same breath as England’s “Red Riding Trilogy”—and suggest it strongly to anyone who connected with this movie, or, actually anything resembling human compassion…well done Seth.

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