Review in a Hurry: Rowdy fratboy-turned-politician David Norris (Matt Damon) accidentally discovers that his life path has been planned out for him from on high, by a bunch of guys in gray suits and hats. Thus begins an intriguing idea, which ironically gets thrown off its own track by an odd balance of tones and the fact that the conspirators are laughably ineffective.
The Bigger Picture: With his political career seemingly down the tubes following the revelation of an embarrassing prank, David Norris departs to the bathroom in preparation for a concession speech. There he encounters a mysterious dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt), with whom he falls in love at first sight. Alas, she's trespassing, and must run away, but not before inspiring him to deliver the best speech of his life: one of those refreshingly honest speeches that only work in movie-world, wherein the candidate derides his own handlers, clichés, and focus groups in favor of profanity-laced bluntness, thereby becoming the most popular politician in the country.
Some time later (there are a lot of passages of time denoted by onscreen titles in this film), Norris is working for a private firm, and arrives just a teensy bit earlier than he's supposed to, after another chance meeting with Elise changes up his routine. This is when he sees the guys in hats (Illuminati? Angels? The Matrix?) temporarily freezing time and messing with people's heads. They make it abundantly clear to him that he must not speak of this again, and he must never see Elise again. Why? Because there's a master plan at play in the world, and his part in it doesn't involve Elise, or exposing them.
This wouldn't be a problem for most people, considering their plan for him is extremely good. But again this is movie-world, where politicians who tell the truth win elections, and love at first sight is all that could possibly matter. Whoever the guys in gray suits are, we can rule out "studio executives."
Based on a Philip K. Dick story that was almost certainly better, and directed by George Nolfi, a writer on Ocean's Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum, The Adjustment Bureau initially seems like a perfectly timed thriller to tap into the current zeitgeist of powerlessness, taking the fears of average folks to their logical extreme. Yes, the system is rigged against you...more than you ever could have guessed! Never mind taking all your money, these bigwigs who run the world want to erase your shot at love too.
Except that to play on our fears, it would have to be genuinely scary or thrilling, and it isn't either one. The bad guys aren't physically imposing, the hats are goofy, and even Terence Stamp can't muster the menace he needs. Not to mention the fact that surely a successful politician being tailed by suspicious characters would have access to a gun. Are the Adjusters bullet-proof? Who knows? It's never put to the test.
Playing up the romance could have been an alternative way to go, but this is only done late in the game, and serves to slow the story down. It being Nolfi's first film as director, we can understand the impulse to be all things at once. But he really should have decided on one genre, and played that to the hilt.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Flaws and all, the story is still mildly compelling, and Damon is good in it. Also, it's nice to see a movie set in New York City that was actually filmed there.