Is the future the result of our choices, or are we bound by fate? This age-old question crops up again in The Adjustment Bureau, a sci-fi romance that goes where many a movie has gone before.
New York Rep. David Norris (Matt Damon), a candidate for Senate, is about to deliver his concession speech when he has a meet-cute with a woman (Emily Blunt) in a men's restroom. All the while, Norris is tracked by mysterious men (played by, among others, John Slattery, Anthony Mackie and Terence Stamp) in suits and hats. After he sees something he isn't meant to, these men not only warn Norris to stay away from the woman he has just met, they actively conspire to keep the two apart.
Adapted from a story by the late sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau shares territory with other movies taken from Dick's work, including Blade Runner and Minority Report. Dark and violent as those movies are, they dramatize Dick's themes in a compelling fashion, in part by balancing the necessary exposition and explanation with action.
That's not the only way The Adjustment Bureau suffers by comparison. It's almost impossible to see Damon running through the streets of New York and not be reminded of Jason Bourne or to put The Matrix out of your mind as characters teleport throughout the city by racing in and out of doors. It's difficult to shake the feeling we've been here before — and enjoyed it more the first time.
First-time director George Nolfi aims for a softer edge than any of those movies has, and the scenes between Damon and Blunt are engaging. The natty, hated agents are an elegant touch (although again, putting Slattery of Mad Men in such a getup can only bring to mind another entertainment, one even more stylish than this one). It's easy to watch, and between that and the ideas it offers, it makes for an agreeable couple of hours in a movie theater.
But at its core, this is a rather sinister story, and putting romance at its center robs it of its impact. As is, The Adjustment Bureau amounts to a Twilight Zone episode expanded to feature length, and not a terribly compelling episode at that.