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A Fine Thriller

In the beginning of George Nolfi’s “The Adjustment Bureau,” David Norris (Matt Damon), a young, charismatic politician, loses his U.S. Senate bid but meets the girl of his dreams, dancer Elise (Emily Blunt).

   Unhappily for the couple, the agents of the Adjustment Bureau have orders to prevent the two from getting together, as it is contrary to the plan of the mysterious “Chairman.”

The adjusters tend toward 1960s-style three-button suits with side vents and narrow lapels, and have cornered the market on stingy brim fedoras — think “Mad Men in Black.”

   And they don’t have a lot of luck in keeping David and Elise apart.

The film is based on a Philip K. Dick story and director/screenwriter Nolfi wisely doesn’t spend too much time trying to explain the inner workings of the Adjustment Bureau, concentrating on their extraordinary powers, including the ability to zip around New York City by going through certain doors, while wearing their hats. So a door in an office building opens into the outfield at Yankee Stadium, which in turn leads to the Statue of Liberty.

They can also freeze everybody in place while they make some minute adjustments.

   So what the film boils down to is a mix of science fiction, a romantic thriller, and a lot of pretty slick chase scenes.

   The chemistry between David and Elise provides the movie’s color and spark. They stand out sharply from the visual tone, which is filmed in that flourescent hyper-real look I think of as “Hallucination Blue.”

   The story itself gets close to terminal silliness, but because the chase aspect is emphasized the movie’s tempo doesn’t falter.

   Adjuster Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), having failed to keep the couple apart, winds up helping them out (and offering some vague insight into who the adjusters — and The Chairman — really are). He is the only other real character in the film — a modern version of the wannabe angel Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

   And for people who insist on a neatly-wrapped package, it turns out that even The Chairman’s plan can be rewritten in the face of true love.

   The screenplay contains some amusing riffs on contemporary media-driven politics — Norris makes a concession speech in which he reveals that everything about him, right down to the necktie, is the product of focus group testing. And the effects aren’t overdone — especially the surreal action with the magical doors. It’s easy for the viewer to simply accept the rules of this particular version of reality and concentrate on getting the lovebirds together.

   In short, “The Ajustment Bureau” is a nice, tight, unpretentious and interesting thriller. There’s nothing in it that’s unsuitable for teens, and it avoids the usual sci-fi and thriller conventions (endless clacking of guns in assembly, gratuitous violence, brainless profanity, and a mind-numbing soundtrack). A good, solid job all around.

And great suits on the adjusters.

  “The Adjustment Bureau” is playing at The Moviehouse in Millerton, NY. It is rated PG-13.

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