Seeing behind the curtain with “The Adjustment Bureau”

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By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer

You don’t have free will, only the appearance of free will,” Thompson, the mysterious hat-wearing, fate-changing character tells David Norris in “The Adjustment Bureau,” which opens March 11.

It’s a curious movie that can’t be described in detail without giving away the twisting and intricate plot. Instead, I’ll settle for the bare bones. Matt Damon plays David Norris, a young, handsome politician known as the ‘rock star/bad boy’ running for Senate.

Early on, he meets a plucky British girl, Elise (Emily Blunt,) and it’s clear there’s an immediate attraction. She is impetuous and maybe a little crazy (when they meet she’s hiding in the men’s bathroom from hotel security because she dared herself to crash a wedding.)

It’s clear that there is an immediate attraction. But a group of mysterious men led by someone named “Richards” (played by John Slattery of “Mad Men”) have been assigned to keep Elise and David apart, for reasons that aren’t immediately clear.

They are “the people who make sure things happen according to plan.” Essentially, they control fate. They recognize the future and will stop at nothing to make sure that that future happens. When David asks him why it’s so important that they are kept apart, Richards shrugs – it is simply the plan. And if that plan isn’t followed, things called ‘ripples’ will occur, altering the course of the future.

The film will draw inevitable comparisons to “Inception,” and maybe even “Memento.” But, it stands on its own merits, first being the unbelievable chemistry between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. They play off each other with an ease that makes them seem like two people who were destined for each other. You instantly root for them mostly because the powerful Bureau doesn’t want them together.

Also, some of the special effects are unbelievable. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll say only this – anyone wearing one of the Bureau’s special hats can walk through a door in one place and come out any other place that they want. It leads to some of the best special effects in the movie, and actually left me breathless a few times. There’s nothing slow about this movie – once it gets going, it doesn’t stop.

Damon is so wonderfully charming, a quality that has always been one of his best as an actor. He’s just turned 40, a jarring fact for those of us who remember when he and Ben Affleck took the stage to accept their Oscar for “Good Will Hunting” as two excited young guys from Boston. Of course, he’s grown as an actor, with credits in films like “The Departed,” “True Grit” and the immensely popular “Bourne” Trilogy.

It’s the combination of those characters that works so well in this film. Damon has that ever-present sensitivity (“Whatever happens, I’m not going to let anything come between us again,” he tells Elise.)

There are a surprising number of laughs in the film. Slattery gets most of them, with  well-honed wit and easy delivery. If he wasn’t completely manipulative and slightly scary, he seems like a guy you’d want to hang out with.

The writing starts to make sense when you learn that director George Nolfi has written more movies than he’s directed, and that this is actually his first film. But really, how can you go wrong when adapting a plot based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, arguably one of the greatest sci-fi writers of all time?

This movie isn’t for everyone. Some will see it as a rip off of “Inception,” others will simply be confused. It’s important to keep an open mind and not take your eyes off of the screen. It’s refreshing to watch a movie that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up but also makes you genuinely think. “The Adjustment Bureau” is a movie that you can easily get lost in. But for those who enter with the curiosity to look past the curtain, you’ll be in for a treat.

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