The Adjustment Bureau

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The Adjustment Bureau
The Adjustment Bureau Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Nolfi
Screenplay byGeorge Nolfi
Based on"Adjustment Team"
by Philip K. Dick
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Toll
Edited byJay Rabinowitz
Music byThomas Newman
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release dates
  • February 14, 2011 (2011-02-14) (Ziegfeld Theatre)
  • March 4, 2011 (2011-03-04) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$50.2 million[1][2]
Box office$127.9 million[1]

The Adjustment Bureau is a 2011 American science fiction romantic thriller film written and directed by George Nolfi, based on the 1954 Philip K. Dick short story "Adjustment Team".[3] Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, and Terence Stamp, the film tells the story of a United States congressman who discovers that what appear to be chance events in his life are controlled by a mysterious, powerful group. After an event not planned by these controllers occurs—a romantic encounter with a dancer—he struggles against their manipulation, despite their promise of a great future for him.

The film premiered at the Ziegfeld Theatre on February 14, 2011, and was released in theaters in the United States on March 4. It received mostly positive reviews from critics and grossed $127 million, against a production budget of $50 million.


In 2006, Brooklyn Congressman David Norris unsuccessfully runs for the United States Senate. While rehearsing his concession speech, he meets Elise Sellas, and they share a passionate kiss. David does not get Elise's name before they are separated, but, inspired by her, he delivers an unusually candid speech that is well-received and makes him a favorite for the next Senate election.

A month later, Harry Mitchell receives an assignment from Richardson at Madison Square Park, which is near David's home. He is supposed to spill coffee on David's shirt by 7:05 a.m., forcing David to go home to change, but he falls asleep, so David catches his intended bus to his new job and meets Elise again. Before she gets off the bus, David gets her name and phone number.

David arrives at work before he was supposed to and finds his coworkers frozen and being examined by unfamiliar men, Richardson among them. He attempts to escape, but is incapacitated and taken to a warehouse. After some debate about what to do, Richardson reveals to David the existence of the "Adjustment Bureau", an organization that ensures people's lives proceed according to "the Plan" created by "the Chairman".[4][5] He says David was not supposed to see Elise a second time, so he destroys the card with her phone number on it, and then he releases David, warning him that his memory and personality will be erased if he tells anyone about what he has learned.

Three years later, David spots Elise on the street. He gets off the bus and invites her to lunch, but Charlie (David’s campaign manager), after an adjustment initiated by Richardson, interrupts them with reminders that David is scheduled to announce he is running for another Senate seat. Richardson tries to prevent David and Elise from reuniting after the announcement, but David stubbornly persists and outruns Richardson to Elise's rehearsal with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, even though members of the Bureau have a way to teleport using ordinary doorways.

Richardson learns that David and Elise keep crossing paths because of remnants from earlier versions of the Plan in which they were meant to be together, and Thompson, a senior official in the Bureau, takes over David's case. He brings David back to the warehouse, where David argues he has the right to choose his own path through life, but Thompson says humans only have the appearance of free will, as the Bureau's experiments with withdrawing their influence resulted in the Dark Ages and the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century, respectively. Thompson tells David that being with Elise will keep him from his fate of becoming President of the United States, and being with David will keep Elise from becoming a world-famous dancer and choreographer. To prove he is serious, Thompson causes Elise to sprain her ankle, and David abandons her at the hospital to avoid ruining their futures.

Eleven months later, Charlie, David's campaign manager and lifelong best friend, alerts David to Elise's imminent wedding. Harry surreptitiously arranges to meet with David when it is raining, since water prevents the Bureau from tracking people. As David's "caseworker", Harry feels guilty about all of the negative things he has helped to make happen to David in support of the Plan, so he teaches David how to use doors to teleport and, hopefully, reach Elise before the Bureau can stop him. David finds Elise just before the wedding and tells her about the Bureau, proving what he says by teleporting with her. Agents of the Bureau pursue them all over New York City, and, eventually, David decides to try to plead his case directly to the Chairman. Elise chooses to accompany him, and they enter the Bureau's headquarters. Chased to the roof and surrounded, David and Elise declare their love and kiss. When they let go of each other, they are alone. Thompson appears, but he is interrupted by Harry, who presents the Chairman's newly-revised Plan for David and Elise, which is blank going forward. Harry commends David and Elise for their devotion and sends them away, speculating that the Chairman's true "plan" may be for people to fight for their free will and write their own destinies, like David and Elise did.


Chuck Scarborough, Jon Stewart, Michael Bloomberg, James Carville, Mary Matalin, and Betty Liu appear as themselves.



In early drafts of the script, the character of Norris was changed from a real-estate salesman, as in Philip K. Dick's short story, to an up-and-coming U.S. Congressman.[6]


Media Rights Capital funded the film and then auctioned it to distributors, with Universal Studios putting in the winning bid of $62 million.[2][7][8] Variety reported Damon's involvement on February 24, 2009,[9] and Blunt's on July 14.[7]


Writer/director George Nolfi worked with John Toll as his cinematographer. Shots were planned in advance with storyboards, but changed often during shooting to fit the conditions of the day. The visual plan for the film was to use a dolly or crane to keep camera movements smooth and employ a more formal style when the Adjustment Bureau is in full control, and to use hand-held cameras and allow things to become more loose when the Bureau is losing control.[10]

Original ending[edit]

The climactic scene on the "Top of the Rock" rooftop observation deck of 30 Rockefeller Plaza was filmed four months after the completion of principal photography.[11] According to Nolfi, the ending that had originally been shot featured "the Chairman":

[I]nitially I was going to show the Chairman. The Chairman was going to be in female form, too. Ultimately, while making the movie, I realized how important it was going to be for people to put their own beliefs in the end and not foreclose that. I don’t think the scene would have foreclosed [people's] beliefs, but the more I could hint at it and the less explicit I could be about it, it wasn’t enough to hint about it in the dialog and have an actual person there acting it. I just had to not show the Chairman, so I ended up not going that way.[12]

The Chairman was later revealed to have been portrayed by actress Shohreh Aghdashloo, who, in her 2013 memoir The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines, said Nolfi told her that Universal Pictures was to blame for the change to the ending.[13] She said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times:

I loved that role. As actors, we all know we're at the mercy of the editing table, but not to this extent, never had I experienced it. The director, George Nolfi, decided I should play God. Everything went great until I got a call from the director who was asking to have lunch with me. He was on the verge of crying. He said, the distribution company believes that you cannot play this role.[14]


The score for the film was composed by Thomas Newman, and two songs by Richard Ashcroft appear on the soundtrack: "Future's Bright" (which was co-written by Newman) during the opening sequence and "Are You Ready?" during the end credits.

Religious themes[edit]

Some reviewers identified Abrahamic theological implications in the film, such as an omnipotent and omniscient God,[15][16] the concepts of free will and predestination,[17][18] and elements from the descent to the underworld (a mytheme dating back at least to the story of Eurydice and Orpheus).[19] Cathleen Falsani said that the Chairman represents God,[20] while his caseworkers are angels.[21][22] The director of the film, George Nolfi, stated that the "intention of this film is to raise questions."[23]


The Adjustment Bureau had its world premiere on February 14, 2011, at the Ziegfeld Theatre on 141 West 54th Street in New York City. Writer/director George Nolfi was in attendance along with members of the cast, including Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.[24] The film was released in theaters in the U.S. on March 4.[25]

Box office[edit]

In its opening weekend in the United States (March 4–6, 2011), the film grossed $21,157,730, which was the second most of any film that weekend, behind Rango. Its total worldwide gross was $127,869,379, as of December 18, 2011.[1]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 71% based on reviews from 261 critics, with an average score of 6.6/10; the website's critical consensus states: "First-time writer/director George Nolfi struggles to maintain a consistent tone, but The Adjustment Bureau rises on the strong, believable chemistry of its stars."[26] At Metacritic, the film has a score of 60 out of 100 based on 41 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[27]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars, describing it as "a smart and good movie that could have been a great one, if it had been a little more daring. I suspect the filmmakers were reluctant to follow its implications too far."[28] The New York Times called the film "a fast, sure film about finding and keeping love across time and space ... [that] has brightened the season with a witty mix of science-fiction metaphysics and old-fashioned romance."[19]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on June 21, 2011.[29] It was the top selling release the first week it was for sale.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Adjustment Bureau". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 6, 2011.
  2. ^ a b The Adjustment Bureau at The Numbers.
  3. ^ Phillips, Michael (March 3, 2011). "'Adjustment Bureau': Mastering fate and romance". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  4. ^ "'Adjustment Bureau': The surreal feels real". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved October 18, 2007. Are you angels?" he asks Richardson. "We've been called lots of things," is the reply. "Think of us as case workers."
  5. ^ "Matt Damon Defies God's Insidious Bureaucracy in The Adjustment Bureau". D Magazine. Retrieved October 18, 2007. You see, "the Chairman" (as the film calls the being who manages the entire universe) has dispatched "case workers" to keep humanity moving according to his carefully choreographed plan.
  6. ^ McCarthy, Steve Todd (February 25, 2011). "Movie review: "The Adjustment Bureau"". Reuters.
  7. ^ a b Fleming, Michael (July 14, 2009). "Emily Blunt boards 'Bureau'". Variety. Retrieved March 1, 2011.
  8. ^ Kaufman, Amy (March 3, 2011). "Movie Projector: 'Rango' expected to shoot down the competition". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  9. ^ Fleming, Michael (February 24, 2009). "Studios weigh star packages". Variety. Retrieved July 28, 2009.
  10. ^ Weintraub, Steve (February 26, 2011). "Writer-Director George Nolfi Exclusive Interview The Adjustment Bureau". Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  11. ^ Williams, Ileana (March 9, 2011). "Ileana's Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau". Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  12. ^ Giroux, Jack (March 3, 2011). "Interview: George Nolfi Talks 'The Adjustment Bureau'". Film School Rejects. Retrieved December 1, 2013.
  13. ^ Aghdashloo, Shohreh (2013). The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines. New York, NY: Harper. p. ??. ISBN 9780062009807.
  14. ^ Lacher, Irene (June 1, 2013). "Shohreh Aghdashloo, from Tehran to Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 19, 2022.
  15. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau". Catholic News Service. Archived from the original on March 12, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2007. Though this is certainly not a film for young people—in addition to the quasi-theological issues underlying the story, David and Elise's liaison becomes physical prematurely—the metaphysical elements of the plot can be interpreted by mature viewers in a way that squares with Judeo-Christian faith.
  16. ^ "Finally, an Action Thriller for Religious Thinkers". The Jewish Journal. Archived from the original on March 10, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2007. Even rarer are those films that tackle theological dilemmas, like the age-old apparent contradiction of free will vs. determinism. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God who controls everything that happens in the World. What, then, is the role of our own decisions? Does man truly possess free will, or does he only have the "appearance" of free will? Did I truly decide of my own free will to marry my wife, or did God orchestrate a complex set of circumstances that forced my hand and caused me to fall in love with this wonderful woman in order to fulfill His unknowable Divine plan? This is precisely the theme of the new film, The Adjustment Bureau (Grace Films Media, now playing.
  17. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau: Fate vs. Free Will, Matt Damon Style". The Christian Post. Retrieved October 18, 2007. How much power exactly do the agents of fate hold over someone's life? Can free will ever win over fate? And is it free will or fate that orchestrates action? Such are the questions that come to mind throughout George Nolfi's newest film, "The Adjustment Bureau," based on the short story by Phillip K. Dick.
  18. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau: Fate vs. Free Will, Matt Damon Style". The Christian Post. Retrieved October 18, 2007. Free Will vs. Predestination: What's Matt Damon Got to Do with It? "It's not this or that," responded Detweiler. "Gamers understand this very well, this tension between predestination and free will. It seems like they may be able to live better with that tension."
  19. ^ a b Dargis, Manohla (March 3, 2011). "Creepy People With a Plan, and a Couple on the Run". NYT Critics' Pick. The New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2012. Mr. Nolfi...appears to have turned to the classics for guidance, specifically Orphée, Jean Cocteau's sublime 1950 version of the myth of Eurydice and Orpheus. From the costumes of Richardson's goggled henchmen to the way David tells Elise to hold onto him so that they can pass through otherworldly portals, Mr. Nolfi samples from Orphée to his advantage, adding a layer of pleasure for cinephiles while keeping the mood up.
  20. ^ Falsani, Cathleen (March 8, 2011). "The Adjustment Bureau: Does God Change Our Minds, or Do We Change God's?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 18, 2007. The Chairman—i.e., God—has written the stories of our lives and the Big Story of the World.
  21. ^ "'Adjustment Bureau': The surreal feels real". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved October 18, 2007. Are you angels?" he asks Richardson. "We've been called lots of things," is the reply. "Think of us as case workers."
  22. ^ "Matt Damon Defies God's Insidious Bureaucracy in The Adjustment Bureau". D Magazine. Retrieved October 18, 2007. You see, "the Chairman" (as the film calls the being responsible for managing the entire universe) has dispatched "case workers" (angels—without wings, but with magical hats) to keep humanity moving according to his carefully choreographed plan.
  23. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau: Fate vs. Free Will, Matt Damon Style". The Christian Post. Retrieved October 18, 2007. "The intention of this film is to raise questions—that's what art should do," commented Nolfi about his soon-to-be released motion picture at an earlier Pasadena screening. And that, Mr. Nolfi, it definitely did.
  24. ^ "Universal Pictures presents the World premiere of The Adjustment Bureau at Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City Monday, February 14, 2011". CNBC. February 8, 2011.[dead link]
  25. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau". Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  26. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved October 6, 2021.
  27. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau". Metacritic. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
  28. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 2, 2011). "The Adjustment Bureau". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 2, 2011.
  29. ^ Gaul, Lou (June 20, 2011). "'Adjustment Bureau' arrives Tuesday on home video". Beaver County Times. Archived from the original on June 24, 2011.
  30. ^ Arnold, T.K. (June 29, 2011). "'The Adjustment Bureau' Tops DVD, Blu-ray Sales Charts". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on July 3, 2011.

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