REVIEW: Stars Run in Circles in Maddening Adjustment Bureau
No actor has made a career of exerting determination to the extent that Matt Damon has. In the Bourne movies, he burned himself down to a central nervous system -- his focus fried away unnecessary calories. In The Informant!, the comedy comes from doughy Mark Whitacre's single minded pursuit of the life he has in his head; the weight he happily carries didn't make him earthbound. That film's examination of identity played like a Philip K. Dick adaptation; it seems to serve the purpose of making writer/director George Nolfi's simultaneously drab and florid adaptation of Dick's Adjustment Team superfluous.
In The Adjustment Bureau, Damon shows movie-star concentration as David Norris, a politician whose world ambitions hit a pothole when his angry streak becomes public. His anger is also misdirected passion, as Charlie Sheen might say, so that when David meets Elise (Emily Blunt), nothing will stop him from making her his own. Not even... the Adjustment Bureau, an otherworldly troupe in fedoras and flannel whose job it is to see that Fate's plans remain unperturbed. And in this case, that involves keeping David and Elise apart.
These Men in Gray are led by Richardson, played by John Slattery -- that specialist in speck-flavored tantrums from Mad Men. He throws fits with as savvy an eye for the audience's pleasure as anyone outside of a '30s screwball comedy, and with his slim tennis player's physique, he adds the extra delight of control. His barely visible lips curl in contempt as David tries work his way around the adjustment bureau's machinations. And Anthony Mackie's gracefulness saves him from tumbling what could be yet another Magic Negro trap as a benevolent bureau member.
Nolfi's additions call too much attention to themselves, such as converting Dick's 1954 paranoiac sketch into a bureaucracy (as in Heaven Can Wait) and the spilling of coffee as a glitch in the matrix lifted from Groundhog Day. Yet, David's volatility shifting into a tool that can get him the woman he wants dovetails into Damon's ability to access decisiveness. Damon's flintiness and Blunt's flirtiness have a daft likability that even catches them off-guard; she uses her poise to strike sparks off his granite.
That's not enough to keep The Adjustment Bureau from being maddeningly repetitious. The conceit of guys in hats make the inexorable forces of Destiny look like a pack of conventioneers visiting Manhattan who watched Swingers too many times on the bus ride up into the city. By the climax, the movie is so tired that an extended chase through doors that become portals makes it look like Damon is trying to escape into another movie; is this the exit into Rounders 2? And by the end, you feel like he'll keep running until he finds the movie he's looking for. Damon's resolve is admirable -- a purity of heart that shows he's trying to will a movie into being.