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Originally published March 3, 2011 at 12:06 AM | Page modified March 3, 2011 at 10:41 AM

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Movie review

'The Adjustment Bureau': Hats off to a fine fantasy

A review of "The Adjustment Bureau," starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, John Slattery and an outstanding array of men's fedoras. The movie is an elegant fantasy, based on a Philip K. Dick story, with just a little too much sci-fi exposition.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'The Adjustment Bureau,' with Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp. Written and directed by George Nolfi, based on the short story "Adjustment Team" by Philip K. Dick. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image. Several theaters.


In "The Adjustment Bureau," life keeps getting interrupted by men in hats. This is not a bad state of affairs, you'd think, as there's nothing like the sight of John Slattery in a suit and fedora to dress up a cityscape. (Slattery, no doubt from all that "Mad Men" practice, wears a hat like nobody's business; he's got the slight, slight tilt down pat.) But it becomes a problem for David Norris (Matt Damon), an up-and-coming New York politician who meets a lovely young woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) in a fancy hotel bathroom (it's a meet-cute, really) — and quickly finds that those nicely chapeau'd gentlemen are doing all they can to keep the couple apart.

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, "The Adjustment Bureau" is an elegant fantasy, only slightly marred by rather too much science-fiction explanation. The Bureau, as Slattery's natty character informs us, are "the people who make sure things happen according to plan." Sometimes our lives are adjusted by chance, but often, we're told, it's by a member of the Bureau, nudging people back into the plan. But a young agent (Anthony Mackie, also suavely hatted) assigned to David messes up, just for a minute, and suddenly David and Elise are back together, racing through Manhattan against the mysterious forces conspiring against them.

Writer/director George Nolfi, in his directing debut (he wrote "Ocean's 12" and "The Sentinel") whisks things along nicely as we watch the Bureau members slip in and out of the present moment by means of magical doors. (A Bureau member, if he's got his hat on, can apparently make any door lead anywhere he wants. As long as there's no water involved. Like I said, the explanation gets a little murky.) The effects — which sometimes feel like a slightly lower-rent "Inception," which is reasonably high praise — are well-executed, and we share in David and Elise's bewilderment as the city becomes a series of shortcuts; a sort of Chutes and Ladders game with an unknown ending, aided by a stolen hat.

And at the movie's center is an appealing love story. Damon, who rarely plays a romantic lead (why is that? is this related to the fact that he, inexplicably, doesn't look good in a hat?), has a likable, low-key charm here that meshes perfectly with Blunt's delicate wryness. You find yourself rooting for David and Elise to outwit the Bureau and find a life together; they seem, regardless of what the Bureau believes, made for each other. And, just as importantly, wondering why some men wear hats better than others.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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