“You don’t have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will.”
The Scoop: 2011 PG-13, directed by George Nolfi and starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Anthony Mackie
Tagline: Your Future Has Been Adjusted
Summary Capsule: Politician discovers shadowy forces at work to keep him away from his dream girl
Justin’s Rating has been adjusted
Justin’s Review: Most of us are quite familiar with the conspiracy thriller genre and its associated tropes. It usually starts something like this: Joe Everyman has a good life that suddenly is turned upside-down one day when he gets caught up in something beyond his understanding, and shadowy agents pour out of the woodwork trying to trap/kill/question him. Also, there is running. A lot of running.
We’ve seen this in Eagle Eye, Minority Report, Next, Enemy of the State, The Matrix, The Fugitive, Conspiracy Theory, and so on. They’re fun movies because the main character shares a common confusion with the viewer, and there are twists and turns galore. It begins with the character barely surviving as everyone and everything is pitched against him, but ends with him somehow getting the upper hand over his antagonists.
Now what if you had a similar conspiracy thriller with shadowy agents and vast forces beyond one’s kin, but the main character was on top of things from the beginning and kept besting those who tried to monkey with his life? You’d end up with The Adjustment Bureau.
Really, it’s an odd tale from the mind of scifi author Philip K. Dick (Minority Report, Blade Runner) about a politician who accidentally makes a fateful decision that somehow throws a massive conspiracy out of whack. What’s weird is that as the film progresses, the bad guys — if you can call them that — grow less and less sinister and more like the poor coyote from the Road Runner cartoons. It’s an interesting twist, but it really took a lot out of the suspense of the story to know that our hero is “winning” from the get-go.
Lack of tension aside, there’s quite a few interesting concepts at play here. Matt Damon is the politician who bumps into Elise (Emily Blunt), a woman that he shares an instant connection with. However, it seems that an army of dapper business-attired gentlemen are trying to keep them apart by any means necessary, because it’s their job to ordain how the world functions.
So there’s this whole subtext of predestination vs. free will going on, with Damon’s character fighting to establish his free will, even though it could end up causing more damage in the end. Even though he doesn’t quite understand the rules of the situation, he’s aided by a sympathetic stranger who does.
As with many Philip K. Dick screen translations, there’s a mixed bag of acting, ideas and execution going on here. It’s similarity to other conspiracy thrillers probably worked against it when the film revealed that it wasn’t quite playing by those rules, but in fact was its own unique animal. Me? I kind of liked it, and it was a pleasant enough way to spend a couple hours before returning to my ordinary, non-conspiracy laden life.
- The names of the three main members of the Adjustment Bureau are Thompson, Richardson, and Harry: a play on the term Tom, Dick, and Harry, which is slang for any anonymous persons.
- The phone number given to Matt Damon by Emily Blunt in the movie ((212) 664-7665) is owned by Universal Studios and has appeared in other films distributed by the company (Definitely, Maybe; Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) in an effort to avoid the much overused “555” prefix. If called, it will ring indefinitely.
David Norris: All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her, come what may.
Harry Mitchell: You’re going to look for her, aren’t you? You won’t find her. They’ll make sure of it. Even if they weren’t trying to stop you, there are nine million people in this city. You’ll never find her. Forget about her. Move on with your life.
Thompson: You don’t have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will.
Richardson: Very few humans have seen what you’ve seen today. And we’re determined to keep it that way. So, if you *ever* reveal our existence, we’ll erase your brain. The intervention team will be sent, your emotions, your memories, your entire personality, will be expunged. Your friends and family will think you’ve gone crazy. You, well, you won’t think anything.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Conspiracy Theory