Movie Review

The Adjustment Bureau

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.

Reviewed by: Laura Busch
CONTRIBUTOR

Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Genre:
Sci-Fi Action Romance Thriller
Length:
1 hr. 39 min.
Year of Release:
2011
USA Release:
March 4, 2011
DVD: June 21, 2011
Copyright, Universal Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Universal Pictures

TRUE LOVE—What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer

fall of man

sin and its results in the world

Free will versus PREDESTINATION—What does the Bible say about God’s sovereignty, election, predestination, and man’s free will? Answer

politics and manipulation

fate

Does everything that happens in life do so for a reason?

angels in the Bible

ANGELS—What else does the Bible teach about angels? Answer

Featuring: Matt Damon—David Norris
Emily Blunt—Elise Sellas
Lisa Thoreson—Suburban Mom
Florence Kastriner—Suburban Mom
Phyllis McBryde—Suburban Neighbor
Natalie Carter—Suburban Neighbor (as Natalie E. Carter)
Chuck Scarborough—Himself
Jon Stewart—Himself
more »
Director: George Nolfi
Producer: Michael Bederman—co-producer
Bill Carraro—producer
Isa Dick Hackett—executive producer
Jonathan Gordon—executive producer
Michael Hackett—producer
Chris Moore—producer
George Nolfi—producer
Joel Viertel—co-producer
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Fight for your fate.”

Are we really the masters of our own fate or is there a higher power at work, guiding our decisions. For centuries, theologians and philosophers across the world have debated the concepts of free will and pre-destination and George Nolfi’s romantic thriller, “The Adjustment Bureau” delves into these theological concepts.

The film follows the story of protagonist, David Norris (Matt Damon), an up and coming young politician from New York who is running for U.S. Senate. David’s campaign is on fire until an embarrassing photo from an immature college prank hits the media. Just as his goal of achieving his political dreams seem to be shattered, David meets a mysterious woman named, Elise (Emily Blunt), a talented ballet dancer. David instantly falls for her and after exchanging a passionate kiss, she inspires him to deliver the most sincere a compelling speech of his career, propelling him to the political forefront once again, and he becomes the front-runner in the next election.

When David encounters the mysterious Elise again and attempts to start a relationship with her, David quickly learns that his choices are not his own and his life’s direction is not under his control, but is decided by a higher power.

David soon becomes privy to a power he didn’t even know existed, after he accidentally witnesses a mysterious group of men, who call themselves the Adjustment Bureau, performing mind manipulation on his campaign manager. David learns that the Adjustment Bureau is a covert group of individuals who quietly carry out the Chairman’s plans for individuals’ lives.

David also meets Harry (Anthony Mackie), an Adjustment Bureau agent, who has been assigned to David since birth to be a gentle guiding hand in his life to keep him on “The Plan” that the Chairman has written for David’s life.

The agents of the Adjustment Bureau tell David that he was only supposed to have a single encounter with Elise, an accomplished ballet dancer, and they tell him that he cannot be with her and live out the Plan that has been set for his life. David refuses to accept this fate that has been assigned to him and he embarks on a journey to bring he and Elise together, but he must face the Adjustment Bureau, who will do anything to keep them apart.

Positive elements and spiritual content

One can certainly draw parallels between the Christian faith and the film’s themes of free will vs. pre-destination, and the concept of a higher power or a guiding force in our lives. While this film is not overtly Christian and is certainly not allegorical in nature there are many metaphorical aspects to it. During one scene, David asks Harry, the agent assigned to him, if “he is an angel” and when David attempts to better understand who the Chairman is, Harry looks up into the sky and kindly tells David that “we (humans) know him by many other names.”

Director, Nolfi’s film takes somewhat of an indecisive stance on the theological concepts that he attempts to explore in this romantic thriller. On one hand, the Adjustment Bureau and its elusive head, The Chairman, are cast as the villains, and the director asks you to root against them, because they are keeping the film’s two protagonists from living out their true love together. On the other hand, the Adjustment Bureau is portrayed as an omniscient guiding force that only wants the best for society.

This film also touches upon man’s sinful nature and our need for God, and the consequences of a Godless society. In one scene, David argues with one of the agents about mankind’s lack of free will. The agent explains to David that throughout history the Chairman has given humanity greater freedom to make choices for themselves, but every time the Chairman has stepped back humanity has made decisions that have led society into some of the worst periods in history, such as the Dark Ages, World Wars I and II, and the Holocaust. He also explains that during some of the greatest periods of history, such as the Roman Empire, Renaissance, and the Enlighten, the Chairman exerted much greater power in guiding humanity. The many spiritual aspects of this film are addressed in a rather broad manner and leave much for the viewers to interpret for themselves.

Negative elements

One of the most negative aspects of the film is the manner in which they chose to develop the love story between the characters of David and Elise. I found their first encounter, which resulted in ‘love’ at first sight and ended in a passionate kiss to be rather unconvincing and shallow. I was also disappointed that David and Elise ended up in bed together. The love scene is relatively brief and shows them in bed together covered by blankets but revealing their bare shoulders as they kiss passionately. The film could have been much improved if the director had laid a more convincing foundation for David and Elise’s relationship, and if he had not resorted to the typical Hollywood bedroom scene. Their characters’ brief and shallow encounters made it hard to believe that they were truly in love.

There is a moderate amount of violent content in this film. Harry is hit by a car and violently bounces off the windshield before falling to the ground. Harry’s character is all right though. In one of the many chase scenes where the agents are in pursuit of David, the agents cause a car accident to prevent David from getting to Elise. One of the drivers in the accident has blood dripping down his face.

“The Adjustment Bureau”’s dialogue is also peppered with profanities. There are over a dozen uses of the s-word, several f-words, and a smattering of other profanities including the words, h—l (approximately 10 uses), b---h, ba----d, d---n, a---, Elise refers to someone as a ‘tool’ and in another scene she jokingly flips David off. The Lord’s name is also profaned more than six times and there are at least one or two uses of God’s name with the profanity, d—n.

Other content that may be of concern to some viewers includes some of Elise’s contemporary ballet moves. Elise also wears several low cut tops throughout the film and David also makes a flirty comment about Elise’s short skirt that she is wearing in one scene.

“The Adjustment Bureau” is more than just a typical Hollywood action thriller, because it not only leaves its audience entertained but it gives them something of significance to think about and discuss. Even though, “The Adjustment Bureau” addresses the concepts of free-will, predestination, God, and other major topics of theological debate in a rather broad, sweeping manner, it can still serve as an excellent conversation starter for more substantive discussions about theological issues among fellow Christians and people of other faiths.

Note: I only recommend this film to mature audiences for its potential as a starting point for conversations about faith-oriented topics. It still earns a morality rating of “Offensive” due to its profanity and sexual content.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—I was glad I saw “The Adjustment Bureau” and cannot wait to discuss it with friends and family. Although it does not reflect a biblically sound theology of God, His nature, sovereignty, free will, etc., it does demonstrate how important these issues are, and just why we as Christians have the best answers to these questions known to man.

So while the movie’s message is unsatisfying, what matters to me most as a Christian is left for all the audience to ponder and discuss. The film affords Christians the opportunity to sharpen each other with the truth, and perhaps start some meaningful conversations with lost friends and loved ones. If I had the time, I would take another friend or two to go see this film and discuss the issues together later over coffee and God’s Word.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Joseph Darnell, age 25 (USA)
Positive—I found “The Adjustment Bureau” to be highly entertaining, thought-provoking, and only slightly off-base from a Biblical worldview. The romance between David and Elise felt very believable, and their “getting-to-know-each-other” scenes played realistically. I only wish the filmmakers hadn’t resorted to the typical Hollywood tactic of making the characters fall in bed to show they really love each other. We could easily have believed they’ve fallen in love without the sex scene.

The film’s treatment of the delicate balance between freewill and predestination adequately echoes the Bible. Even though it seems like a dichotomy to us, more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Roger Spendlove, age 45 (USA)
Positive—I love thought-provoking movies, and this one was a perfect way to spend an afternoon during spring break. The combination of a romance with science fiction usually has potential to be less of a cliche than other movies. “Adjustment Bureau” is visually appealing and the dialogue is enjoyable, but not too heavy which is a good balance with the far-fetched concepts (think the Matrix). However, not all of the concepts were all that far-fetched… I think the most interesting thing about “Adjustment Bureau” is its underlying religious commentary.

The writer/s took vague but recognizable Judeo-Christian elements and, in my opinion, tried to invalidate them. I had a distinct impression of deism, rather than Christian parallels. At best, the higher powers in this movie are well-intentioned but understaffed, clad in stuffy suits and (magic) fedora hats. With the name of “Adjustment Bureau,” the office setting, etc.

The concept of a higher power is strongly compared to the way most people see the government as untrustworthy and manipulative… also seen, more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Rebecca, age 20 (USA)
Positive—This was a well-done movie, overall. What sets it apart from many other films of its genre (“Inception,” for instance) is that it raises deep, provocative questions about free will and God. …It may change their minds about such issues, or at least bring them into deeper thought. Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Terence Stamp stood out in the cast for me, giving top performances.

There were many exciting chase scenes. But those expecting a frenetic action flick will be disappointed, as this is more of a love story then anything else. Speaking of romance, the two main characters do indeed show chemistry, but be forewarned! Hollywood apparently felt the need to portray its version of “love”: there is a brief sex scene in this film between the two leads. The camera never shows more than below shoulders, but it is still offensive.

There is also some profanity, more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Joshua, age 20 (USA)
Positive—I really liked the sci-fi thriller side of this movie. The concept of an “adjustment bureau” was very original and intriguing. One thing that confused me a little: although the “Chairman” had many of the aspects of God, some of the “bureau” acted more like demons than angels.

But what I really found lacking, though, was in the romance. I hate it in movies when the couple starts making out only a few minutes after they’ve met. Also, these two have only met three or four times, yet the woman is willing to leave her marriage to another man, with nary a second thought, when Matt Damon asks her to.

Don’t get me wrong, though; I really enjoyed this movie. Those things were small enough that they didn’t ruin the story for me.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Stacy Whoppe, age 19 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—This is a slight picture with fine acting. Emily Blunt and Terence Stamp are both outstanding. Matt Damon acts well but seems to be trying out for a run as a Democrat for the US Senate. The traditional form of a melodramatic romance was of deep passion initially thwarted by social obstacles which were then overcome, followed by an engagement.

The theme is “love conquers all.” This film is a melodramatic romance with some unusual twists. It is unChristian. The central idea is that God has—in practice -suspended free will by presenting people with choices dictated by contrived situations. God is not as such referred to. I do not see that there is any real problem with the film from the perspective of Christian morality on the score of its central theme. It is so obviously contrary to all experience that only the mentally infirm would think that it is expositing an actual world, rather than exploring an interesting counterfactual scenario.

The movie has premarital sex. It softens that by ensuring that the female is a party to a broken more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Blue, age 52 (Australia)
Neutral—This is a very strange movie. If it were not for the excellent acting skills of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, it might fall flat on its face. The movie examines fate versus free will. It really does manage to make this theme explicit, with spooky messengers from some unknown being hounding a couple that wants to be together, trying to keep them apart. At first, I thought this was a ridiculous movie, but I was determined to see it through to the end, and then I saw that it really does deal with the issue of fate.

As a Christian, the ideas presented were far from what I know to be the truth, as presented by the Bible. How blessed I am that I know a personal God who made himself present through the person of Jesus Christ, as opposed to these sci-fi figures representing some kind of controlling entity. But the idea of trying to discern the will of God versus one’s emotional inclinations did come to mind, as I watched, and that is a valid topic
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Halyna, age 64 (USA)
Neutral—The last time I saw a film with Matt Damon starring as the lead was probably the Bourne film trilogy. He is an established actor, and he knows how to give a fair performance in many of his movies. This includes his latest performance in “The Adjustment Bureau.” Look, I wanted to love this film. I wanted to scream, “That was awesome!” But I couldn’t. All I could say to my father as we walked out of the theater was, “Yeah, it was alright.”

Don’t get me wrong Damon and Blunt were great together, in the moments they were actually TOGETHER. They had chemistry, no question. But as Ms. Busch stated in her review, it was too sudden and no real room for character/couple development. If you’re looking for a film with action and gunfights, this isn’t it. It borders on a psychological/romantic thriller and fulfills the purpose of what it was supposed to do, leave you with a good feeling and questions about pre-destination, fate, and even the question of a deity existence.

Yes, there is a deity, and his name is God, and his son is Jesus. As for content, more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
Alexander Malsan, age 20 (USA)
Neutral—Fun, funny, and entertaining, but also far-fetched. Contains a few Fs, a middle finger, beautiful but seductive modern dancing, and premarital sex. Depending on your point of view, it also contains some large misconceptions about God. It could simply be viewed as an alternate reality, a make-believe world. But if you compare the Chairman to God, if you view the movie as an allegory, it definitely falls short.

***SPOILERS*** The biggest issue for me was at the end of the movie, when we finally discover that the entire point of David and Elise being kept apart was to see if they would fight to be together. To see if they would fight against what they perceived to be the Chairman’s plan (God’s plan, so to speak) and to see if they could live without him. When in reality, God wants us to live in peace with him; his goal is not for us to live apart from him. That is a very literal interpretation; however, I believe movies have the potential to affect our views of situations and life in general, sometimes without our even realizing it, and it’s good to be aware of ideas that are presented in them.
***END SPOILERS***

One thing is for certain; I will never think of men in suits and fedoras in the same way again!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Sarah C., age 20 (USA)
Negative
Negative—We went to see this movie thinking that it was a thriller movie based on the previews. The first thing I want to share has to do with the distorted way the world has, as far as how God intervenes in human history. They portray Him as someone who will give in to your desire, if you persist in it, so He will then change your destiny. They, also, mentioned Him as a man or woman, at the end of the movie. Also, angels that cuss out profane words and mess up over and over again, and having to clean each other’s mix ups. In other words, God and the angels are all out of control, and His plan is changed by man’s will.

The only thing positive, I guess, is to start a conversation with people who watch the movie and have questions about what the Bible has to say about free will and your choices. One last thought though: You need to be well prepared on how to talk about these difficult themes such as these (free will, choices, predestination, etc.).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Ozzie Barletta, age 52 (USA)
Negative—I had seen a trailer for this movie when I saw, “True Grit,” in the theatre. The trailer included the taglines, “If you believe in freewill,” and, “If you believe in choice.” Matt Damon, the star, is a virulent Democrat, and I’ve noticed that the movies he has been in lately seem almost tailored, as if to make him some sort of wannabe Christ-figure. Knowing this, combined with the taglines, it seemed to me as a leftist propaganda film. I avoided this movie at first, and, while I did, I found that other religious persons who had seen the movie actually came to the same conclusion as myself.

I recently saw this movie and was shocked at just how dark it is. It cloaks itself in religious language and actually mocks it (religion, specifically Christianity). more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Nicole, age 20 (Canada)
Comments from young people
Positive—This is a though one to rate morally, because in some ways it completely goes against the Bible, but in other ways poses a interesting point of view on predestination vs. free will and analogies to the sovereignty of God. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are not at their best, but do what their roles require. “The Adjustment Bureau” is all around a fun movie, with some view points to explore.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Michael, age 17 (USA)
Positive—This movie was very entertaining and teaches you that you have to fight for what you love, you should go see this movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Bethany, age 12 (Canada)
Positive—“The Adjustment Bureau” was really interesting and entertaining. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt did their parts well. There is some objectionable content, but, overall, I’d recommend it to anyone 15 or older.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Nathan, age 17 (USA)
Positive—“The Adjustment Bureau” was a bit of an inspiration for me; I loved how the film ran smoothly without any major hiccups. It’s definitely a film worth watching, and it’s very entertaining. Even though I don’t really like romance movies, I still liked it. Perhaps that’s because they mixed some action and a very intriguing storyline in with it. It will keep you wondering how everything turns out for all of the characters, and I would recommend this.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Jamie, age 14 (Australia)