Matt Damon is doing things a lot of top movie stars are sometimes scared to do: spreading his image thin among a range of roles, directors, and material. His forays away from the huge successes of, say, the Bourne
movies or the Ocean's
series which have highlighted his fully realized strengths as a buff action hero who can also slip effortlessly into natural comic charm aren't exactly risky. His image as a leading-man movie star is pretty much sealed, but in movies like The Informant
, True Grit
, and others, he's stretching some different muscles that take him closer to character-actor territory. That has largely been a good thing for his fans, if not for his box-office stats. The Adjustment Bureau
takes him somewhere in between--he's in leading-man territory with the Damon charisma in full bore and giving his all to a story that needs the toned actorly muscle he provides.
Based on a novelette by science-fiction icon Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Bureau exposes a cadre of people who are either superhuman or nonhumans and control the world by magically influencing the fate of every single person in it. Damon plays David Norris, an aspiring politician who rose from working-class roots in Brooklyn (a not-so-closeted skeleton that sometimes comes back to haunt him) to wealth and the likely promise of high office. Unfortunately, David takes some liberties with his fate that don't correspond with the narrative laid out by "the Chairman," the entity in charge of the Adjustment Bureau autocrats whose matching fedoras are none-too-subtle symbols for wings. The movie evades any mention of religion, but those hats and references to the Chairman are huge winks. Emily Blunt is the equally appealing presence who screws up the Chairman's plan in concert with Norris. They fall for each other hard again and again, constantly thwarting and confounding the bureau's best-laid adjusting tricks at every turn. Though it is often simplistic in its plot contrivances, the movie is nifty, clever, nimbly paced, and filled with ingenious special effects. Especially impressive is the recurring motif of doors that are virtual wormholes--a closet that leads to the middle of Yankee stadium, an Escher-like maze of conference rooms that constantly double back on themselves (shades of the dizzying door sequence in Monsters, Inc.). Another cool visual prop are the plain bound books bureau functionaries carry that are filled with intricate, animated schematic diagrams that chart the course of a life and how it interacts with others. John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, and Terence Stamp round out the uniformly excellent cast headed by Damon and Blunt, and with the slick production design and inventive effects, the glossy performances go a long way in adjusting up any dramatic shortcomings The Adjustment Bureau may have improperly calibrated. --Ted Fry