I have a theory that Matt Damon and I would be friends. Like if I was hanging out in Boston one day and I bumped into the guy, we’d hit it off and before long you’d see me sitting with him courtside at a basketball game and the paparazzi would be wondering, “Who is the mystery man who’s always hanging out with Damon?” I base this theory on several factors. First, you always get the impression that Damon is a cool dude. Maybe more than any other A-lister, Damon gives off an air of genuine coolness. Second, in keeping with the cool factor, Damon doesn’t take himself too seriously. He takes his craft seriously, of course, but you have to love a guy who’s willing to show up as Tina Fey’s boyfriend on “30 Rock” or a punk rocker in “Eurotrip.” Third, his sense of humor comes out through his characters and it falls in line with my own. Just trust me, Matt and I would be tight if he knew me. I tell you all of this because I lost my notes on “The Adjustment Bureau” and I had some space to fill. Sue me.
Based on a short story by the esteemed Philip K. Dick, “The Adjustment Bureau” drops us into the life of David Norris (Damon), a brash, young politician running for the New York senate. When a late-breaking tabloid report ruins his chances, his disappointment is quickly squashed when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a charming dancer who inspires him to make a charismatic and honest concession speech. (I swear I would vote for this guy.) A month later he bumps into Elise again and is immediately reminded of the oddly strong attraction he felt toward her. He soon discovers, however, that this budding relationship isn’t the in the cards as he is made aware of the Adjustment Bureau, a group of beings (perhaps angels) who are tasked with the job of keeping everyone on the right path. He is told that in order for his political ambitions to come to fruition, he can never see Elise again. Saddened, he moves on with his life but never stops a quiet search for the girl who so impressed him. When he finally does find her, the Adjustment Bureau jumps into action in an effort to push the pair apart, causing a city wide cat-and-mouse game that pits love against reason.
Given my love for smart science fiction and Matt Damon, I’m sure no one will be shocked to hear that I highly enjoyed “Bureau.” It plays out as one part “Serendipity,” one part “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and one part “The Matrix” and the final combination works well. That may seem a bit complicated but the presentation is simple and to the point. This is a love story and all the surrounding complexity is used solely to drive our two stars together. It is antiquated in a way and at times hokey but I found this combination to be quite charming. There’s a certain nostalgic value to “Bureau,” a throwback to the cinematic endeavors of the 50s and 60s.
As it is a romance, the film’s success rests squarely on the chemistry between Damon and Blunt, neither of whom shy away from the pressure. The pair works wonderfully together, exhibiting a natural, enjoyable relationship that doesn’t take itself too seriously but at the same time proves to be worth fighting for. I can’t say this is Damon’s best work ever but then again, Damon’s B+ game is better than most people’s A+. I always find Blunt to be magnificent and her work here is no exception. Much like her role in “Sunshine Cleaning,” she demonstrates a certain indescribable quality that draws your attention and glues your eyes to every scene. It takes a supreme talent to match up with Damon and Blunt holds her own. The supporting actors, notably John Slattery and Anthony Mackie, all have their moments but as I said, “Bureau” depends entirely on Damon and Blunt.
For all the endearing charm of the first 97 minutes of “Bureau,” the final two minutes are a let-down. It’s a safe, moralistic ending that drops in on you much quicker than expected. It is, quite frankly, a cop-out. I will say, however, that while my distaste for this was palpable, I can’t for the life of me think of a stronger conclusion that isn’t overly dark. “Bureau” is at no time dark or gritty. In fact, the contrast between the harsh landscape and the light, vulnerable relationship the leads display is a point of strength for the film. To end on a dark note would have been a betrayal of the rest of the movie. Still, though, it’s a weak finale that could have used a reworking. This flaw, though, doesn’t keep “Bureau” from being very good. I would venture to call this my favorite romance since "500 Days of Summer," an excellent date movie with a smart concept and old school sentimentalities.
If anyone knows Matt Damon, have him email me,
Care for another take? Check out John Likes Movies review, which includes some excellent points that I had forgotten due to the cursed loss of my notes. I'm getting old.