Matt Damon tries to fight fate to be with Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau, a movie about free will and fedoras.
Specifically, the natty fedoras worn by the men of the Adjustment Bureau. We see these men, dressed like 1960s-era CIA agents, in crowds, following people, people like David Norris (Matt Damon), a man running for U.S. Senator from New York. He is being watched by Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), a man who wearily stands in crowds as he gives rousing speeches.
Unfortunately for David, these speeches will be for naught, because days before the election, the Post publishes pictures of him mooning the crowd at his college reunion. Minutes before he is set to give a rousing but shallow concession speech, though, he bumps in to Elise Sellas (Blunt), a woman hiding out from hotel security in the men’s room. The two have an instant connection and after some witty banter they kiss. David’s campaign director Charlie (Michael Kelly) shows up to pull him on stage but the effects of all the smooching have David throwing aside his speech and talking about the absurdities of politics, a move that makes him all the more popular and a viable candidate for the next election.
Days later, he is heading to Charlie’s company, where he’s planning to work between elections, and he bumps in to Elise again. But wait — he wasn’t supposed to. Harry Mitchell was supposed to make sure David spilled coffee on himself and went back up to his apartment to change his shirt, missing the bus and Elise altogether. When he doesn’t, Harry’s supervisor Richardson (John Slattery) has to step in and attempt to put a stop to the reunion and set things back on the right track. But somehow David arrives at the office a little too early and finds Richardson and his men erasing the brains of frozen-in-their-tracks people and changing the way life moves forward. He freaks out and tries to run from the gray-suited-men as well as the hazmat-type-suited men who are helping to “adjust” the situation. Because David has some special importance in the world, the men don’t want to erase his memories. So they level with him. Explain that there is The Plan and then when things happen to throw people off The Plan — like a relationship with a girl who was supposed to be a chance, one-time encounter — they step in to adjust the future. Free will, as another adjustment officer tells us later in the movie, is not something humans can quite handle yet. The Chairman, as they call the Plan’s author, is the one writing the future.
Naturally, David doesn’t quite understand this peek into a secret world, though he goes along with not talking about it rather than having his brain wiped clean. But he can’t quite give up the dream of seeing Elise again and this time when he runs into her and when dead cell phones and car accidents seem to be trying to keep them apart, he knows what’s up and tries to fight the fatedness of his fate.
There is something about The Adjustment Bureau, something I can’t quite put my finger on (the pacing? the fuzzy mythology about the Bureau? the talk of some all-knowing Chairman?) that is not quite sharp. The lines of this story are draw with chalk and crayons, not ink pens and rulers. There is a loose quality to the setup and a frayed-ends feel to the way the story unfolds. The look of this movie’s trailers and the overall theme of messing with reality made me drawn, like two people fated to be together, to a constant comparison of this movie to Inception. This movie isn’t quite as polished as that one.
It is, however, more fun.
The Adjustment Bureau is kind of straightforwardly sci-fi — not a lot of dithering about is the Bureau real or not— with exactly as much personal introspection as Matt Damon can handle and none more. We don’t get that squinting, constipated Leonard DiCaprio “I’m Acting here” vibe that makes everything feel tense and unnecessarily unfun to get through in parts of Inception. We get sad people and happy people and some lovey-dovey stuff and some mild humor and the movie keeps on chugging even if it occasionally has to run on the power of title cards. And part of the reason is Damon and Blunt. They are individually delightful to watch and together have something that, if it isn’t quite white-hot chemistry, is close enough for an early spring popcorn movie. I enjoyed watching this movie in a way that I frequently did not enjoy watching Inception — not to pick only on that movie. I could also bring up the many Philip K. Dick movie translations that simply fell apart as I watched them. This one, like a car that shakes a bit but gets you there, holds together.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image. Written and directed by George Nolfi (from a short story by Philip K. Dick), The Adjustment Bureau is an hour and 45 minutes long and distributed by Universal Pictures.