Written, directed, and co-produced by George Nolfi (a neophyte helmer whose writing credits include The Bourne Ultimatum and Ocean’s Twelve), The Adjustment Bureau inflates an early Philip K. Dick story with a typically paranoid conceit—our lives are secretly micromanaged by a supernatural bureaucracy of “adjustors”—into a cosmological white-collar-thriller-cum-steroidal-rom-com, with Matt Damon as an idealistic young pol fated to someday be president and save the world.
Defeated in his bid to become New York’s senator, Damon has a men’s-room meet-cute with Emily Blunt’s sassy modern dancer that inspires him to go rogue on his own concession speech and thus emerge positioned as a future candidate. But destiny takes a tumble when an overworked adjustor (Anthony Mackie) dozes and allows Damon to re-encounter Blunt. The so-called Plan is derailed! Worse, the gaffe permits the future messiah to glimpse destiny’s inner workings: “You saw behind a curtain you didn’t know existed,” explains the most acerbic adjustor (Mad Men’s John Slattery).
Closer in spirit to Wings of Desire than Men in Black, The Adjustment Bureau is not without ambition or dorm-room ruminations on free will and predestination. Humans, we learn, blew their chance; twice let off the leash, they blundered into the Dark Ages, the Holocaust, and the Cuban Missile Crisis (while, it may be deduced, the period of well-adjusted determinism, a/k/a the Enlightenment, produced colonization and the slave trade). Now, per St. Augustine, everything must follow the Plan—including its arbitrary regulations.
To that end, the not-quite-omnipotent adjustors can access a network of secret tunnels—open a door at MOMA, pop out in Yankee Stadium—allowing them to travel faster than the mind can think. Hoping to suspend disbelief, Nolfi enlists his own band of authenticators. Damon’s candidacy is endorsed by Mayor Bloomberg and parsed on TV by James Carville and Mary Matalin; it’s more natural for this movie to invoke the presence of Jon Stewart than the name of God.