Men in hats. Dapper dudes acting ominously. They look like members of the GQ style brigade, circa 1958, with fedoras set at authoritative angles, tailored topcoats stylishly worn, tasteful scarves elegantly draped. These men are closely shadowing Matt Damon in “The Adjustment Bureau.”
They seem to be everywhere. They seem to know everything about his character, a fast-rising New York politician. They know his thoughts before he thinks them. They know his movements before he makes them.
Who are these people? And what do they want?
They’re enforcers of fate, guardians of destiny. In writer-director George Nolfi’s stylish romantic thriller, they’re supernatural entities who see to it that people live their lives according to a divinely devised plan.
The premise of the picture is that an individual’s destiny is preordained. Fate has big plans for Damon’s character, David Norris. But keeping him on track proves tricky.
You see, he’s fallen hard for a woman, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), who could derail the carefully constructed life journey fate has mapped out for Norris. The men in hats can’t let that happen. Foot soldiers in an outfit called The Adjustment Bureau, they set about to magically nudge Norris back onto the straight and narrow. (A fortuitously timed coffee spill is meant to be one such nudge.) If nudging won’t work, they make it clear to him they’re prepared to resort to more extreme measures.
Very loosely based on a 1954 science fiction story by Philip K. Dick, “The Adjustment Bureau” is a tale of rebellion in the name of love. After the adjusters – who usually work in the shadows – make themselves and their purpose known to him, Norris decides to risk it all to fight fate and follow the demands of his heart. At stake is his future in politics and quite possibly his sanity.
In a picture like this, everything depends on the chemistry between the people playing the lovers. If the attraction isn’t palpable, everything falls apart. Fortunately, Nolfi cast his movie well. Damon and Blunt are extraordinarily engaging together. They click from the first seconds of their meet-cute encounter in a marbled men’s room in Manhattan’s swanky Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He’s there in retreat to contemplate the implosion of his political career; she’s hiding from hotel security.
Damon’s easy openness and effortless self-confidence and Blunt’s big-eyed allure, combined with a confidence equal to her co-star’s, make Norris and Elise an immensely appealing couple. Their conversation flows from the start, sounding like the talk of people who have known each other all of their lives. Their senses of humor mesh smoothly. They convey a sense of being exactly right for each other. You have no trouble believing Norris would risk anything to be with her.
The naturalness of their relationship makes the picture unexpectedly sweet. The defy-fate-at-your-peril storyline and the somber demeanors of the members of the Adjustment squad (Anthony Mackie, playing an adjuster sympathetic to Damon, and Terence Stamp as Mackie’s big boss are particularly grim) give the picture a chilly veneer. In the beginning, the picture seems portentous, but that sense is gradually softened by the work of Damon and Blunt.
Eventually, “The Adjustment Bureau” evolves into a chase picture in which Damon and Blunt flee the adjusters through a series of magical Manhattan doorways that allow them to instantly pop up at distant locations throughout the city.
Nolfi is a first-time director who until now has been known as a screenwriter (he co-wrote “Ocean’s Twelve” and “The Bourne Ultimatum,” both starring Damon). He is a smooth stylist who keeps the film moving along confidently. And it’s great-looking. Manhattan gleams thanks to director of photography John Toll (“Braveheart”). The costumes, elegant and understated (Kasia Walicka Maimone was the costume designer), add to the high-class ambience.
As for those hats, they play a key element in the plot. Once revealed, it seems just a wee bit silly. That can be said of “The Adjustment Bureau” as a whole. But the picture’s stylishness and two winning performances make it easy to ignore the underlying silliness until the end.
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU
* * *
Cast: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Terence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery
Director: George Nolfi
Running time: 1:38
Rating: PG-13; language, violent images, sexual situations