Matt Damon is in the zone. He may not be making movies that are scoring hugely at the box office of late (though “True Grit” did just fine), but every movie he makes is a smart one, including his latest, “The Adjustment Bureau.”
For a movie star, it’s the equivalent of surfing in the curl. No matter how long or magnificent the ride, it never lasts forever.
Damon is now, in terms of quality if not ticket sales, where Harrison Ford was in the 1980s and early ‘90s and Tom Hanks was in the ‘90s and first half of this past decade.
Consider Ford in his prime, when he went from 1982’s “Blade Runner” to “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” to “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” (to “Witness.” Not a loser among ‘em.
Ten years later, he was still maintaining standards with an output that included 1992’s “Patriot Games,” “The Fugitive,” “Clear and Present Danger” and “Sabrina.” The last, a 1995 remake of the 1954 Billy Wilder soufflé, was a misfire, but Ford offered a deft, underplayed comic performance.
Hanks, too, was on a similar roll throughout the early ‘90s, when he went from one impressive title to the next, including “A League of Their Own,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump” and “Apollo 13.” The high-quality hits just kept coming.
What Ford, Hanks and Damon all share is a fundamental decency, or at least the ability to project it convincingly on screen. They’re our stand-ins up there, representatives of our slightly more heroic projections of self.
Other major males stars don’t have quite the same quality. Tom Cruise is too cocky, Brad Pitt too beautiful, George Clooney too smirkingly smart, and Ben Affleck has made too many downright lousy movies (though he’s on an upswing now).
Damon’s screen persona was established with “Good Will Hunting,” which he co-wrote with Affleck. There, he’s the unassuming nice guy who turns out to be smarter than anyone else. Add a few karate chops and an ability to navigate in a car or motorcycle at high speeds and you have Jason Bourne, the reluctant spy character he has played three times to blockbuster success in his Bourne series.
But Damon also has range. His Everyman can have a sneaky side, showing up as a con man or thief (in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and its sequels and “The Informant!”). It is his innate choirboy decency that makes him so effective in these underhanded roles, as if his own dirty dealings creep up and catch him by surprise.
He’s back to playing a decent guy in “Adjustment Bureau,” an entertaining sci-fi romantic thriller loosely adapted from a short story by Philip K. Dick.
In the movie, Damon and co-star Emily Blunt meet more than cute — they meet sexy funny.
He’s a promising young politician who, having just lost a senatorial bid in New York, has taken refuge in a deserted men’s room off the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel to rehearse his concession speech. Suddenly, an attractive woman (Blunt) clad in a slinky satin gown and clutching a champagne bottle emerges from one of the bathroom stalls.
They flirt, kiss and then are parted before he has a chance to get her name or phone number.
That these two are meant for each other is clear. But there are forces, men in dark suits and hats (led by John Slattery, looking right at home in a “Mad Men” get-up), intent on keeping the pair apart. These men have supernatural powers. They also keep consulting at a slim book filled with grid-like illustrations, which they refer to as “The Plan.”
Apparently, “The Plan” requires Damon and Blunt to remain apart. Damon is equally determined, no matter the interference from the men in hats, to find and hang on her.
It’s all very “Inception” and “Matrix,” only without all the levels, gadgetry and gobbledy-gook and boasting a lot more heart. Director-screenwriter George Nolfi, a co-writer on the earlier Damon films, “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” manages to give the movie equal doses of humor and suspense and showcases some swell New York City locations.
It’s a film you can analyze and discuss for hours afterwards to uncover layers of meaning. Or you can take it for what it is: accomplished filmmaking that features two highly attractive, talented leads, a healthy dose of sentiment, an intelligent script, and which takes you away for two hours from the quotidian worries and banalities of your regular life.
I’ll settle for that any day.