FATE. It’s the age-old question: does free will exist, or are we travelling along pre-determined paths – and if so, who determines them, and to what extent?
Luckily for us, Nolfi’s execution of this romantic thriller manages the difficult trick of remaining intriguingly intelligent while placing entertainment well ahead of explanation.
The script happily skips any laboured exposition on exactly who – or what – the ubiquitous shady men in the sharp suits and anachronistic hats are, and it positively sprints past any lengthy monologues establishing why they do what they do, which is nice, because long explanations can be tiresome.
There’s a suggestion that the Adjusters may be angels and there’s vague mention of a Chairman with a Plan, but it’s never fully explored.
Instead, we experience The Adjustment Bureau in the same manner as the film’s protagonist David Norris (Matt Damon), as a strange and all-powerful force twisting events to its own ends.
That’s not to say that the members of the Bureau are devoid of personality. John Slattery’s Richardson is sardonic, Anthony Mackie’s Harry is openly compassionate, Terence Stamp’s Thompson is all business.
They attempt to manipulate Norris’ life and order him to break off contact with dancer Elise (Emily Blunt), “or else”.
But when pure chance gives Norris another shot, he very sensibly refuses to give her up – after all, if fate was supposed to keep them apart then why does he keep bumping into her?
Norris is smart, ambitious, but a little feckless; Blunt is amused and independent, and the dialogue between them crackles, allowing us to overlook the only-in-Hollywood serendipity of their meetings and instant connection.
It’s their intense connection which keeps the pace frantic as the difficulties pile on, the film gradually accelerating into a mad dash for the finish line.
Nolfi saves his budget for where it matters, perhaps learning from his writing work on the Bourne series that knowing where to cut can be just as effective as blowing everything sky-high.
Even more miraculously, despite the fact that it’s Matt Damon powering down the street, this never feels like a Bourne wannabe in its action scenes.
It’s a testament to how expertly the film builds to its conclusion that this finale is basically the ultimate rom-com cliche, the run for love, but with all the forces of the universe arrayed against them. It’s excusable because you want them to make it.