'Adjustment Bureau' Dives Into Intricate Mind Games

Universal Pictures/Courtesy

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The biggest mystery of "The Adjustment Bureau" is not the identities of the ubiquitous men in black hats. It's how George Nolfi's movie, which produced a trailer straight from the dusty archives of "Inception" and "The Matrix," contains such a witty and romantic heart.

The film is based on a short sci-fi story by Philip K. Dick, but the humble suburban plot has been relocated to the glossy city of New York and the glamorous world of politics and ballet. Matt Damon plays David Norris, an up-and-coming state congressman from the school of hard knocks. His Senate campaign is derailed at the last minute, but not before he meets the charming Emily Blunt in a bathroom. An impulsive kiss leads to six months of even more charming infatuation by Damon.

However, every other tentative step toward romance is made impossible by that second biggest mystery in "Bureau": the men wearing black suits and black fedoras, carrying trendy black Moleskines with moving ink. The men with names like Richardson, Donaldson and Thompson. The men who are part of a secretive organization that, like the Men in Black, like the man behind the curtain, like HAL 9000, is trying oh-so-gently to steer the world in the proper direction.

Of course, Norris soon discovers this truth behind the mysterious men, as well as the Bureau's attempts to keep him and his new lady friend apart, whether it takes a car accident or a sprained ankle. The rest of the movie can be interpreted as one man's struggle to determine the meaning of destiny and free will.

But "The Adjustment Bureau" is much better when it fully embraces the sweet romance at its core. Damon and Blunt have simply incredible chemistry. David Norris has his Jason Bourne moments, but he also flashes puppy-dog eyes full of realistic longing. Blunt's Elise is even more en pointe (literally) as the modern dancer full of hipster chic and sassy banter. Her ability to be adorable without crossing over into twee is something rarely found in recent silver screen love interests.

The witty repartee between the flirty couple is one of the highlights of the film; without it, the movie's derivative nature can be a little overwhelming. When the members of the Bureau explain their existence to Damon, the dialogue wilts and becomes especially stilted. Even the shadowy "Chairman," a cringe-worthy metaphor for God, is only explained in movie cliches overplayed in the last 50 years. Couldn't Nolfi trust his viewers to understand the connections without beating them over the head with explanations? The climactic ending dialogue is also full of overblown exclamations.

Despite these moments of awkwardness, the movie is an entirely immersive experience, thanks to talented cinematographers and scorers. The delightful characters exist in an epically beautiful version of New York City. The camera zooms by the bustling sidewalks, the baseball stadium and even the Statue of Liberty. Wide, panning shots highlight the beauty in the urban landscapes, and they wink at the Bureau's image of the world as a clockwork system. A buoyant, creative soundtrack elevates each scene, from the magical first date to the frantic chases. Nolfi is forgiven for his small trespasses on the audience's intelligence since he has created such a audiovisual spectacular.

"The Adjustment Bureau" is about more than mind tricks and conspiracies that go all the way past the White House. In the end, it's about that winning Blunt-Damon rapport. In a movie like this one, it's essential to root for the star-crossed lovers, and these two are definitely worth fighting for.

Flash your puppy-dog eyes at Rebecca at [email protected]

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