Back in September, we should have all been comfortable in our seats at the cineplex, munching our Milk Duds and enjoying Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau. But then Universal delayed the film’s opening a full six months. Never a good sign.

Short of a major global catastrophe, the primary reason (okay, only reason) a film is delayed is because it’s not very good; the studio wants a mulligan.

Whatever Universal did, it worked. The Adjustment Bureau is a smart and exciting action-thriller with one heck of a romantic love story at its core. And it’s steered by the excellent performances of Damon and Blunt, who share a chemistry that a lot of stars would kill for.

Damon is New York Congressman David Norris, a young political up-and-comer who is this close to being elected to the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, he’s so young and so impulsive that his frat-boy past keeps catching up to him, giving the tabloids plenty of fodder. Suddenly, he’s on the outs, standing in a bathroom at the Waldorf practicing his concession speech, when all of a sudden, a beautiful young woman emerges from one of the stalls. Elise (Blunt) is hiding from hotel security after crashing a wedding. After only a five-minute conversation with her, David is hooked. And, more importantly, we all are, too.

The bad news? There’s a gaggle of guys in fedoras and overcoats who are trying to keep David and Elise apart. At first we’re not sure what to make of them, but when we see one looking at his book and it’s full of moving diagrams, and then when we watch as he uses… well, The Force to knock over David’s coffee cup from a city block away, we suddenly remember that the basis for The Adjustment Bureau came from the mind of the prolific sci-fi icon Phillip K. Dick (though, truth be told, the movie is an adaptation of Dick’s 1954 short story “The Adjustment Team” in only the most basic sense).

The general idea here is that people have free will only when it comes to things like favorite flavors of ice cream and what shirt to wear. Everything else (save emotions) is the product of a global team of ‘adjusters’ who work for ‘the Chairman’, whose office is ‘upstairs’. The Chairman controls the whole world—all of life’s major decisions. More importantly, the adjusters will do everything (and anything) to keep all of humanity on that path.

The morning after David and Elise’s meeting, David’s adjuster nods off, thus neglecting to set in motion a series of events which would have kept David from ever seeing Elise again. He was supposed to go on to a successful political career. She was to go on and further her ballet career. Instead, they do meet up, and the game is afoot as the adjusters try to get things back on track. Unfortunately, David has fallen for Elise and doesn’t take too kindly to the fact that the hat guys are trying to keep them apart.

Screenwriter George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum, Ocean’s Twelve) sits in the director’s chair for the first time with The Adjustment Bureau, and he expertly crafts a mind-blowing caper that will keep you on your toes til the end. Better yet, it will keep you entirely caught up in the love story between David and Elise. It’s as pure and honest as any you could hope for, and I’ll be damned if you don’t spend the better part of an hour and a half rooting for them with everything you have.

A lot of the credit goes to Damon, who wisely toned down his Jason Bourne tendencies to instead play David as a simple, common man thrown into an entirely uncommon situation. But the real success of the movie rests with Blunt. Her excellent performance is at once captivating and charming, so much so that there’s no question in our minds why David would attempt to move heaven and earth to be with her.

Occasionally the script gets a little too esoteric (and thinly-veiled-religious-allegory) for its own good, but the movie as a whole, when you boil it right down, is a fascinating mix of Inception and The Truman Show, and it’s easily the best thing to hit movie screens so far this year.

4.5/5 stars