To its credit and possible demerit, The Adjustment Bureau can be filed under “Inception Lite,” with its twists of fate, cinematic style, and the mortal, consensus-reality rulebook. The film plays the deus ex machina card, run gently amok: God is in the machine, the details, and the friendly, ghostly narrative hokum. Not surprisingly, it is based on a story from the wild imagination of the late sci-fi cult hero Philip K. Dick, whose work has reached the big screen in the form of such films as Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.
Here, Matt Damon plays a senatorial candidate in New York with a checkered past he’s trying to bury, and a sudden encounter with a whole ‘nother realm of issues. He is dogged by a posse of strange Men with Hats, with connections way upstairs (i.e., guardian angels-cum-free-will tweakers). As Damon’s character tries to outwit his angelic hosts and get the girl (Emily Blunt), the film teases our sense of mortal bearings, if a bit too neatly and tidily.
Where the real problem lies here is the veracity of the story’s nucleus, re: the power of love. Damon doesn’t really have the acting chops to make us believe the all-important, gravity-defying love at the core of this story, just as his emotional chilliness marred that aspect of his work in Clint Eastwood’s similarly mysticism-coated Hereafter. Maybe he is born to be Bourne (director George Nolfi’s résumé includes writing The Bourne Ultimatum). Still, we can understand why he would be beguiled by the female interest in the scenario, a dancer with game and a reckless wit.
On the plus side of the Inception comparison game, The Adjustment Bureau is a more mild-mannered and ultimately sweet film, with enough chase and action sequences to pump the adrenaline, but not so much blood and angst to scare away those resistant to overly edgy action films. In other words, the Bourne factor is softened and downplayed, in favor of an amiable, fairy-dusted fantasy tale.