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 date
  • 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 was released on April 3, 2011. It was premiered at the Ziegfeld Theatre on February 14, 2011, and received positive reviews from critics. It 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, David meets Elise Sellas. They share a passionate kiss, though he does not get her name. Inspired by her, David delivers an unusually candid speech that is well-received, making him a favorite for the next campaign.

A month later, David prepares for a new job. At Madison Square Park, near David's home, Harry Mitchell receives an assignment from his superior Richardson. Harry is to spill coffee on David's shirt by 7:05 AM so he misses his bus. However, he falls asleep; David boards the bus, meets Elise again and gets her phone number.

David arrives at work early and finds everyone in the building frozen and being examined by unfamiliar men. Attempting to escape, he is incapacitated and taken to a warehouse. Richardson reveals the existence of the Adjustment Bureau. As its staff, Richardson and his men ensure people's lives proceed following "the Plan", a complex document Richardson attributes to "the Chairman".[4][5] They destroy the card with Elise's phone number, and David is warned that if he tells anyone about them or tries to meet Elise again, he will be "reset"—his memory and personality erased.

Three years later, David again encounters Elise after seeing her from a bus window; he has ridden that bus for three years, hoping to see her. He learns that she dances for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. The Bureau tries to prevent them from starting a relationship by altering their schedules and preventing them from meeting. David races across town, fighting the Bureau's efforts to "control his choices" and stop him from meeting Elise. During the chase they use ordinary doorways to travel instantly to distant locations.

Senior official Thompson takes over David's case, taking him to the warehouse, where David argues he has the right to choose his own path. Thompson gives many examples of humanity receiving free will, and the Bureau having to take it away: after the height of the Roman Empire, then five centuries of the Dark Ages; the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the scientific revolution. When free will was restored in 1910, later World War I, the Great Depression, Fascism, the Holocaust, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, again the Bureau retook control. Thompson strongly implies that without Elise's influence David can become President of the United States, while Elise can become a world-famous dancer and choreographer, and being together will ruin both of their futures. Thompson causes Elise to sprain her ankle at a performance to demonstrate his power, and David abandons her at the hospital to avoid ruining their futures as Thompson described.

Eleven months later, as David campaigns again, Charlie, his campaign manager and lifelong best friend, tells David of Elise's imminent wedding. Harry contacts David via secret meetings in the rain or near water, which prevents the Bureau from tracking them. Harry reveals that Thompson exaggerated the negative consequences of David and Elise's relationship, and teaches David how to use doors to teleport and evade the Bureau. Just before the wedding David reaches Elise, reveals the Bureau's existence to her, and shows her how to travel through doors. As the Bureau pursues them across New York City, David decides to ask the Chairman to end the conflict and Elise chooses to accompany him. They enter the Bureau's offices with agents in pursuit.

After a chase through the building, David and Elise find themselves surrounded on the observation deck of the GE Building. They declare their love and kiss before David can be caught. When they let go of each other, the Bureau members are gone. Thompson appears, but is interrupted by Harry, who shows him, and then David and Elise, their revised Plan from the Chairman: one that is blank starting from the current moment. Harry commends them for their devotion to each other, and says they are free to leave. As David and Elise walk away, Harry speculates that the Chairman may be preparing humanity to "one day" write its own Plan.



In early drafts, the character Norris was changed from a real-estate salesman, as in the 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 for $62 million.[2][7][8] Variety reported Damon's involvement on February 24, 2009,[9] and Blunt's on July 14, 2009.[7] The film was released on March 4, 2011.[10]


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 keep the camerawork smooth using a dolly or crane and have controlled formal shots when the Adjustment Bureau was in full control, with things becoming more loose and using hand-held cameras when the story becomes less controlled.[11]

The final scene on the "Top of the Rock" rooftop observation deck of the GE Building in Rockefeller Center was filmed four months after the rest of the film had completed shooting and has a different ending from the original.[12]


The score was composed by Thomas Newman, with two songs by Richard Ashcroft ("Future's Bright" for the opening sequence; "Are You Ready?" for the closing credits).

Original ending[edit]

According to Nolfi there was an alternate ending, later revealed as featuring actress Shohreh Aghdashloo as the Chairman:[13][14]

[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.

In her 2013 memoir, Aghdashloo said Nolfi gave her a different explanation. He blamed Universal Pictures for the change to the ending:[14][15]

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.

Religious themes[edit]

Some reviewers identified Abrahamic theological implications, such as an omnipotent and omniscient God,[16][17] the concepts of free will and predestination,[18][19] and elements from the descent to the underworld (a mytheme dating back at least to the story of Eurydice and Orpheus).[20] Cathleen Falsani said that the Chairman represents God,[21] while his caseworkers are angels.[22][23] The director of the film, George Nolfi, stated that the "intention of this film is to raise questions."[24]


The film 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 the cast, including Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.[25]

Box office[edit]

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

Critical response[edit]

The review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 71% based on reviews from 261 critics, and a weighted average 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."[20]

Home media[edit]

The Adjustment Bureau was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on June 21, 2011.[29] The film was the top selling release for its opening week.[30]


  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. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau". Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  11. ^ Weintraub, Steve (February 26, 2011). "Writer-Director George Nolfi Exclusive Interview The Adjustment Bureau". Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  12. ^ Williams, Ileana (March 9, 2011). "Ileana's Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau". Retrieved April 16, 2013.
  13. ^ Giroux, Jack (March 3, 2011). "Interview: George Nolfi Talks 'The Adjustment Bureau'". Film School Rejects. Retrieved December 1, 2013.
  14. ^ a b Lacher, Irene (June 1, 2013). "Shohreh Aghdashloo, from Tehran to Hollywood". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 1, 2013.
  15. ^ Aghdashloo, Shohreh (2013). The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines. New York, NY: Harper. p. ??. ISBN 9780062009807.
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ "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.
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ "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."
  20. ^ 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 1949 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.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "'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."
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ "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]
  26. ^ "The Adjustment Bureau (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 7, 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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