The Adjustment Bureau is a lot more interesting than its trailer made it look. It gives a sense that men in hats are bothering Matt Damon, which happens a bit, but it’s the classic case of “there’s more to it than that.” While certain aspects of the story don’t stand up to close scrutiny, the performances are compelling, and it’s quite well-directed by first-timer George Nolfi, who also wrote and produced.
In short, without spoiling anything too major, the story follows hotshot Brooklyn Democratic politician David Norris (Matt Damon) through what appears to be a sure-thing Senatorial election, only to have an eleventh-hour scandal—broken by the New York Post, of course—cost him the election. While muttering his concession speech to himself in a men’s room, Norris meets a woman named Elise (Emily Blunt), who is (improbably) hiding in one of the stalls, evading security from a wedding she’d crashed. The two are immediately drawn to each other, but after an all-too-brief kiss, they’re interrupted by security, and Elise has to flee. Norris goes on to give a concession speech of atypical candor, which makes him an immediate favorite in the next Senatorial election.
Shortly thereafter, the impeccably dressed, behatted, and mysterious Richardson (John Slattery) and Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) conspire to delay Norris before he’s able to catch a bus. They fail to, and Norris has a chance encounter with Elise, and they find they have just as much chemistry as they did before. This, however, is something that will simply not do for the Men In Hats. Richardson corners a bewildered Norris and lays the situation out for him: life is governed by a Plan, which is written by The Chairman. Richardson, Mackie, and their stylish colleagues are in the business of making sure that everyone behaves according to The Plan, making adjustments when necessary. Although they are capable of stopping time, manipulating physical reality at whim, and altering people’s memories and behavior patterns, they tell Norris exactly what’s going on and tell him that if he alters from the plan at all, he’ll be effectively lobotomized. They release him, unharmed, though they burn the card on which Elise wrote her phone number, so he’ll have no way of contacting her.
From there, let us simply say that Norris encounters Elise again, under very improbable circumstances, and leave it at that, except to say that the improbability with which they keep running into each other is deliberate. No one, no matter how cool his hat, can effectively keep the two apart, as love conquers fate, unless it’s such an absolute that it also conquers free will. Will the two Plan-deviating lovers incur the wrath of The Chairman (and is He the Old Testament or New Testament Chairman?) Or will they manage to stay one step ahead of the Men In Hats (whose number also includes the one and only Terrence Stamp) and find true love?
Considering that all the huge, complicated stuff that happens in the last 90% of the movie could have been avoided if John Slattery had just had his guys wipe Matt Damon’s memory—the reasons why he can’t seem more like excuses than reasons—The Adjustment Bureau is a perfectly enjoyable movie, and the reason why is largely due to Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. They are both very good in the movie, and have a vividly palpable chemistry. This, Thomas Newman’s fine score, and the terrific, well-photographed retro-50s fashion and production design carry the movie through a number of pitfalls (like the fact that the Men In Hats could have ended the picture in ten minutes if they were paying attention).
Is The Adjustment Bureau a perfect movie? No, but nor is it The Bourne Inception like all the trailer-inspired jokes imply. It’s a well-executed diversion, an old-fashioned love story, but with a number of plot points and “rules” that are a little arbitrary, though the fact that it turns out most of the SF stuff the adjustors do is dependent on wearing a hat is quite cool, if slightly silly. Even if it’s more stylish than good, The Adjustment Bureau is entertaining. Until the ending, which indulges in a bit of paraphrasis ex machina, it holds up its end of the “don’t pull at the loose threads and in exchange watch two pretty people fall passionately in love” bargain. And there are lots of really cool hats.