The Adjustment Bureau ultimately isn't a Matrix-esque sci-fi thriller or some metaphysical foray into the eternal questions of free will and fate.
Sure, there are heady issues bandied about in this loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick's 1954 short story "Adjustment Team," in which an unseen, omnipotent and conspicuously ecumenical "Chairman" dispatches his band of "adjusters" to steer the course of human events.
Clad in Mad Men attire, these angels of fate don't control human thoughts or actions—although they are able to wipe a person's memory—instead, they influence external events in order to obtain a predetermined outcome. For example, they can't force someone to crash his or her car into another, but they can alter a traffic control signal at the moment your vehicle is entering an intersection.
Instead of exploring the themes of destiny and choice, writer-director George Nolfi constructs a giant hamster maze designed to test the lengths two crazy kids will go to find true love. David Norris (Matt Damon) is a congressman seemingly destined for political stardom. In the midst of an unexpected election night defeat, David has a random but memorable encounter with Elise (Emily Blunt), a beguiling beauty and aspiring dancer.
It turns out the Chairman and his bureau, which includes henchmen played by Anthony Mackie and Mad Men's John Slattery, have plans for David, and they do not include Elise. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between David's compulsion to be with Elise and the efforts by higher authority to keep them apart.
Plot holes abound, even discounting the script's science-fiction context. No reasonable explanation is given for why this league of extrasensory gentlemen can perceive human emotions but not thoughts, or how they know where all of mankind is and will be at all times but somehow keep losing track of David and Elise whenever they enter each other's orbit.
That said, there's a witty, charming Ernst Lubitsch touch applied to much of The Adjustment Bureau—thoughts of Heaven Can Wait spring to mind. It nicely partners with the palpable chemistry between Damon and Blunt, two able, handsome actors who entice us into caring about their characters.
Unfortunately, Nolfi—and perhaps studio "adjusters"—don't trust the strength of their material. Matters take a revealing, but dark turn when a taciturn, troubleshooting adjuster (Terence Stamp) arrives on the scene. Time and again the filmmakers try to amp up the script with chase sequences—filmed on location in Manhattan—involving cars, doorway portals and a stairway to nowhere except a finale that feels curiously like the product of test-audience pandering. The mixing of styles and genres is Nolfi's stated intent, but his execution creates tonal inconsistencies that keep the viewer constantly off-kilter.
Fortunately, it's the rapport between Damon—ever the likeable Everyman—and Blunt that determines The Adjustment Bureau's fate. In particular, this is Blunt's best performance since her early work in My Summer of Love and, later, The Devil Wears Prada. Here, she is mischievous, vulnerable and always fetching. And scenes of Elise's modern dance routines made me envision another alternate reality: one where Blunt was cast as the Black Swan.