More romance than thriller

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 3, 2011 - 2:25 PM

Matt Damon tries to choose between love and ambition in this Philip K. Dick-inspired film.

"The Adjustment Bureau" stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt as a couple who are irresistibly drawn to each other, yet not fated to be lovers. The dynamics of a film love story require them to triumph over all obstacles to be together. But when platoons of mysterious men with supernatural powers move heaven and earth to prevent that happy ending, the course of true love runs very bumpy indeed.

Adapted from a short story by that master of mind-scrambling sci-fi, Philip K. Dick, the film bristles with the sort of contrivances that could incite derisive snickers. Yet it moves with such brisk self-assurance that the chuckles arrive only at a few comedic rest stops. Terence Stamp plays a stone-faced sentinel who lays it all out: "We actually tried free will before. You gave us the Dark Ages."

Damon's character, a New York congressman named David Norris, is a savvy, intelligent pragmatist. In the opening credits, we see him traveling through a convincing real-world milieu of senior Democratic politicians. When he encounters a mysterious agency tasked with keeping every human life moving along a preordained path, he fears he's having a psychotic episode. By taking on the audience's incredulity and asking all the how-can-this-be-happening questions, he gives us the luxury of sitting back and watching an engaging tale unfold.

The film wears its influences on its sleeve, from the trim '60s business attire worn by the "Men in Black"-like guardians, to the notion that the world is, in effect, a "Truman Show"-style soundstage. Yet it doesn't feel like a montage of previously used moments. George Nolfi, the writer of the last "Bourne" movie, scripts and directs here, keeping the focus on his appealing stars and the story's heart. If Norris gets his spunky ballerina, the emotional hole that propels him to seek elective office will be filled. And if Norris doesn't run for president ... well, they never exactly establish what will happen, but it seems bad.

The script's mystical hubbub about predetermination and free will is mere scaffolding for a sweet romance. Damon, who has usually chosen more challenging roles than the romantic lead, gives it a solid, sincere shot. He's touching when he appeals to his implacable adversaries' better nature, saying, "If I'm not supposed to be with her, why do I feel like this?" A true politician, he thinks he can talk fate into a compromise.

The film looks great, with John Toll's burnished photography turning New York into a romantic wonderland. The special effects are low-key, with one nifty exception. Damon's pursuers chase him across Manhattan by popping through doorways that magically connect Fifth Avenue to Yankee Stadium or subway tunnels to the base of the Statue of Liberty. When Norris turns the tables, the film becomes a giddy sightseeing tour: "Inception" by way of "The Amazing Race."

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

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  • "The Adjustment Bureau"

  • THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

    ★★★ out of four stars

    Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.

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