Movie Review: “The Adjustment Bureau”

There are these guys, see? And they’re dressed in slightly out-of-date suits, gray mostly. And they wear hats –each and every one of them, all the time.

They dress like “Mad Men” and they’re led by a “Mad Men” star (John Slattery). But they’re not in advertising, circa 1962. No, these guys run a vast bureaucracy that clocks in every morning and decides our fate.

Make a move that doesn’t follow the predetermined path your life was supposed to follow, they set you straight. That’s what “The Adjustment Bureau” does, manipulate events so that your life, from start to finish, follows their plan. And nobody sees them, nobody knows they’re doing this.

Until David Norris. His run for Congress just got derailed and he’s just met a woman who changed his whole world view.  An impulsive guy, acting on impulse, David (Matt Damon) stumbles into the knowledge of this “Bureau.” And as years pass and effort is expended by that apparatus — Are they angels, micro-managing aliens? — David battles them for the chance to re-connect with Elise (Emily Blunt), who set off sparks with him on the worst day of his life.

“The Adjustment Bureau,” written and directed by George Nolfi (based on a Philip K. Dick short story), the screenwriter of Damon’s last Bourne and “Oceans Twelve,” has hints of several supernatural romances, especially “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Damon and Blunt have spectacular chemistry, and their flirtations have such snap that you’d swear Damon is blushing as Blunt bats her eyes at him.

This “Inception” meets “Made in Heaven” by way of “They Live” is also the screwiest movie Matt Damon has been in since, what, “Dogma?”

But “The Adjustment Bureau” is a romantic thriller too caught up in the thrills to be as romantic as it needs to be. David carries around this top secret knowledge and schemes for that moment when he can go “off plan.” Slattery dons his hat and sets off in pursuit as David tries this trick and that to escape the manipulating overseers and find his way to the slender, sexy dancer he only knows by her first name.

That tug we’re supposed to feel, the thing that pulls them back together and drags us along with them, rooting for them to connect — it’s just not strong enough to sustain what it essentially a cute thriller treatment of the war between free will and determinism, the notion that we do or do not control our own destiny.

It’s romantic and intellectually stimulating and like “Inception,” it may have you arguing with your date on the ride home.  But it plays like a movie by a thriller writer who is better at chases that at romance. Which it is.

Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery

Director: George Nolfi

Running time: 1:44

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

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