Attitude adjustment

The Adjustment Bureau

We are men, men with hats. We are going to adjust your life.

We are men, men with hats. We are going to adjust your life.

Rated 4.0

In The Adjustment Bureau, Matt Damon plays David Norris, a mediagenic young congressman on a meteoric rise, expected to walk into the U.S. Senate from New York. But as Election Day looms, the meteor crashes and burns: Some photos surface of David mooning friends at a college reunion, and suddenly he doesn’t look so senatorial.

At his hotel headquarters on election night, the bleak returns roll in and David goes to the men’s room to rehearse his concession speech. Out of one of the stalls steps Elise (Emily Blunt), embarrassed but unwilling to eavesdrop. Elise is a party crasher hiding from hotel security; as she and David banter, sparks begin to smolder and they slide into a clinch. But the moment ends when David’s campaign manager barges in to fetch him for his speech. Intellectually and emotionally stimulated by the encounter with Elise, David dispenses with his bland good-loser remarks and speaks frankly about how badly he blew the campaign. The speech swells his approval ratings even in defeat, and David is poised for success down the line, once voters have decided that he’s grown up.

Three years later, David is still out of politics and starting a new job. As he leaves his apartment building for the bus stop, we notice—though he doesn’t yet—that some mysterious characters in hats and suits, so nondescript they stick out like sore thumbs, are micromanaging his morning without his knowledge. And their sudden agitation tells us that things are going wrong.

On the bus, to his delight, David meets Elise again, and they reconnect as if the years between had never happened. He gets her phone number, promises to call. But at his office the bottom falls out of David’s world, and we get an inkling of what those mysterious characters were so agitated about. One of them has somehow dropped the ball and as a result, David has met Elise again, which he wasn’t supposed to do. Worse, he gets to work on time—and in so doing, he finds a battery of strangers in hazmat suits milling around his law office like a decontamination team while David’s co-workers stand frozen and oblivious. David has stumbled upon an Adjustment Team in action.

One of the team, Richardson (John Slattery), decides there’s no choice but to explain. We are from the Adjustment Bureau, he says coolly, the guys who make sure the universe unfolds as it should, according to “the Plan” worked out by “the Chairman.” David must never disclose what he’s learned to anyone; if he does, both he and whoever he tells will be destroyed. Oh, and that Elise woman? Richardson says to forget her. The Plan called for David to meet her only once and never again. Forget what you saw, he says, and forget about her; do we understand each other?

David can do neither. He has glimpsed the clockwork of the universe, exposing the vanity of the myth of free will. But at the same time, with Elise he has sensed something that feels like it was meant to be; now this Richardson character tells him it was meant not to be? David can’t believe that, and he decides to test whether free will is such a myth after all, this Chairman and his Plan be damned. Eventually David makes enough waves to involve Thompson (Terence Stamp), a fixer who gets results no matter who he has to hurt. Then things really get hot for David and the unsuspecting Elise.

The seed for director George Nolfi’s script is a 1954 story by Philip K. Dick, though Dick would hardly recognize it. Nolfi takes the anecdotal bare bones of the story and fashions them into a romantic fantasy thriller with a liberal sprinkling of swashbuckling CGI effects and a dash of black-helicopter the-truth-is-out-there paranoia.

In the end, Nolfi never quite comes up with a satisfying ending; instead, he just waves all the trouble away. But for once, the movie’s romance outweighs the fantasy and even the CGI, thanks to the playfully easy chemistry of Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. Their on-screen rapport is The Adjustment Bureau’s trump card, and Nolfi revels in it. It gives the movie a euphoric charge—David and Elise are true love, and they are literally defying destiny to be together. Who wouldn’t root for that?