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The Adjustment Bureau

A 2011 movie directed by George Nolfi.

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Fate Brought Us Together. Can Free Will Keep Us Together?

  • Mar 5, 2011
Star Rating:

The Adjustment Bureau
, adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team,” is the most engrossing, intelligent, and stimulating science fiction fable since Knowing, a gem that I personally believe was not given its dues. It takes one of the oldest and most unknowable of humanity’s spiritual quandaries – fate vs. free will – and applies it to a simple but brilliantly executed love story. The result is an emotionally complex and endlessly fascinating film, one that has a legitimate argument to make and isn’t content to simply go along with absolutes. It’s not a matter of whether there is fate or free will; it’s a matter of our very existence, of our actions determining when and how the concepts can individually or collectively apply. On both sides of the spectrum, choices can be made.
The film is above all an intense and absorbing thriller, one that pits everyday people against forces they cannot comprehend. It’s founded on the premise that an omnipotent being known only as The Chairman formulates a plan for the course of someone’s life. Because there is such a thing as chance, it is possible for someone to deviate from his or her plan. This is where the Adjustment Bureau comes in. It’s like a divine watchdog group; if a plan isn’t being followed, specially assigned men in dress suits and hats will step in and make the necessary alterations to get that person back on track. Only in extreme cases do they have to resort to “resetting” a person’s mind. They’re headquartered in, of all places, an office building in New York City; the interiors are neat and orderly, and are a haven for desks and filing cabinets.

A charismatic New York politician named David Norris (Matt Damon) stumbles onto this not long after losing his early lead for the U.S. Senate. The night he gave his resignation speech, he ran into and immediately fell in love with a British woman named Elise (Emily Blunt) in a Waldorf Astoria bathroom; his plan dictated that he was never supposed to see her again, but because a Bureau agent named Harry (Anthony Mackie) failed to intervene, he ended up riding with her on the bus. Matters are further complicated when, upon arriving early for work at a venture capital firm, he catches Bureau agents examining staff members, who are all frozen in time. Norris is caught and drugged, although he does try to run away. Upon awakening in an abandoned warehouse, an agent named Richardson (John Slattery) warns him to stay away from Elise and to never reveal the existence of the Bureau, not even accidentally.
To describe any more of the plot would do you and the film a great disservice. I would rather not get into a discussion about the preposterous nature of the story. Of course it’s preposterous. But films often do not work under the same constraints of reality, and this one is no exception; as it’s being projected up on the screen, The Adjustment Bureau follows a surprising pattern of logic, one both plausible and understandable. Those who see it may not believe it, but they can’t in good conscience say they weren’t in some way challenged. There are many ways this film will force you to think. You have the philosophic debate between a deterministic and random universe. You have the intricate nature of the pacing and editing, especially when Norris learns how to use doorways as portals, as the Bureau agents do. Most significantly, you have a recap of history; when you consider that we as humans are responsible for two World Wars, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 9/11 attacks, a little divine guidance doesn’t sound so bad.

But the real goal isn’t to criticize or condemn. What was clear to me was writer/director George Nolfi’s intention to string together a supernatural mystery and a romance. He succeeded, but more importantly, he kept me along for the ride. Partly, this is because I was actually made to care about the characters; although they fall for each other rather quickly, I still believed that Norris and Elise were in love. There was affection, yes, but there was also urgency, desperation, and devotion. Where appropriate, there was also restraint, and I really do think certain filmmakers forget how important that is in a love story.
The film also has its fair share of special effects, although they’re not used in traditional fashion – which is to say, the shots are not drowned in a sea digital wizardry. In their subtlety, they’re highly effective; they make us marvel at how they were done, but at the same time, we’re allowed to keep focus on the characters and the emotion of the scene. If after all this The Adjustment Bureau still ends exactly the way you expect it to end, it will have earned that right, for it’s not about the ending so much as everything leading up to it. I sincerely hope audiences take this film seriously. It’s great entertainment, but more to the point, it has something to say. It isn’t often a movie has the power to amuse you while at the same time getting you to consider the possibilities.


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July 11, 2011
This story sounds like an update of George Orwell's 1984 .
July 08, 2011
I liked this film. It gave me sort of a "City of Angles" meets "X-Files" feel.
July 09, 2011
I do think this film was sadly overlooked, as was Knowing.
March 10, 2011
I love the title of your review. Really thought-provoking in and of itself. Sounds like a movie I can drag a boy to and have neither of us be bored :D
March 10, 2011
Well, I can say that I certainly wasn't bored. But then again, I don't speak for all boys.
March 09, 2011
I liked this film up until the ending when it just went way over the suspense of belief into the ridiculous. I do love the balance of suspense thriller and love story, I wish that that balance could've lasted til the end. Great review!
March 10, 2011
I'm sorry you didn't think the ending worked. Given everything leading up to it, I thought it was spot on.
March 10, 2011
I felt like it just fell off- they all race to chase the couple, just to pause so that they can have a long, passionate kiss? I was a little put off from that and couldn't get my footing after it. Then, Thompson comes to finish them off just to have Harry (who I LOVED) appear and say blah blah blah. I like how it has that love can conquer all mentality, I think I wasn't expecting it.
March 06, 2011
Nice review, Chris. I liked this movie myself, and I am very happy that you liked it more than I did. I really enjoyed your closing line.
March 06, 2011
Thanks. Many people have told me that I'm greatly overrating it, but I can't help it. I love stories with a heart and a brain at work.
March 06, 2011
agreed. I sent you a message by the way....
March 05, 2011
Great review
March 06, 2011
Thanks. I only hope you enjoy the film, if you decide to see it.
More The Adjustment Bureau reviews
review by . March 05, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
There is NO Fate But What You Make....But Do We Need Adjustment?
There’s something very familiar and yet it proves to be quite pleasing to the viewer when director/scripter George Nolfi takes on the movie adaptation of Philip Dick’s short story called “The Adjustment Team” and makes it “The Adjustment Bureau”. It has been wrongfully labeled as a sci-fi film, since it is anything but. It has strong themes of spirituality and of existentialism wrapped around romance, paranoia and mystery. Not really sure, it’s almost …
review by . March 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
It wasn’t until the middle of February in 2010 that I found my first 5/5 worthy film in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”, a heart pounding, gut-wrenching, brilliantly performed thriller that left my jaw on the floor and set a huge standard for the rest of the year, ending up as my #4 favorite by December. As February came and went and so did forgettable films like “I Am Number Four”, my hopes were starting to wane in general for 2011 in general when it came …
review by . July 09, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     Whenever I discover that a new Philip K. Dick novel is being adapted into a film, I can't help but be skeptical. Most of the time, I just sit down somewhere and let out a big sigh. This is not to say that I detest the Philip K. Dick-based films; a couple of them are very, very good. It's not particularly hard to get a basic understanding of what the writer had in mind when he wrote the story, especially in K. Dick's case. "The Adjustment Bureau" is the latest …
review by . June 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Other than the Bourne films and Good Will Hunting, I am not much of a Matt Damon fan and the trailers for this film reminded me of "The Forgotten" which was terrible. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised in how much I liked this film. It is kind of a more serious version of Looking for Mr. Jordan with a little bit of special effects thrown in. Damon is a young hotshot who seems destined to win the election for New York Senator. On the eve of the election he does something stupid which …
review by . May 02, 2011
Like Rango, ever since I saw a trailer for this with True Grit I had very high hopes for this movie. In some ways, this movie satisfied my expectations, but in some ways, it didn't. To put it in plain speech, The Adjustment Bureau was not the science fiction epic I thought it was going to be, but it was an entertaining and interesting movie with two strong lead performances and an interesting premise. Like the critics said, it did have some trouble maintaining a consistent tone, seeing as it …
review by . March 15, 2011
Like Rango, ever since I saw a trailer for this with True Grit I had very high hopes for this movie. In some ways, this movie satisfied my expectations, but in some ways, it didn't. To put it in plain speech, The Adjustment Bureau was not the science fiction epic I thought it was going to be, but it was an entertaining and interesting movie with two strong lead performances and an interesting premise. Like the critics said, it did have some trouble maintaining a consistent tone, seeing as it …
review by . March 03, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
The Adjustment Bureau - The Two Jews On Film Think This One Needs Adjusting
Do we control our destiny or do unseen forces manipulate us? That is the question 'The Adjustment Bureau' asks. The film is based losely on a short story by Philip K. Dick and is directed and written by George Nolfi (co-writer of The Bourne Ultimatium).      Matt Damon plays ambitious New York politician, David Norris. David's just about to become the next Senator from New York, when a photo of him mooning a group of people, is brought to light. David loses the election …
review by . March 11, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
The Adjustment Bureau Makes You Really Think
When you say adjustment bureau, you have to ask yourself what do you mean the movie or the actual collection agency. There is an actual agency that goes after the big boys such as banks, auto dealers, finance companies and any other professional types. But, in this case we are talking about taking time out of our busy schedule to go to the matinee to see the movie Called Adjustment Bureau  starring Matt Damon. You know him, he is the star to all of the Borne Identity Movies. He is the perfect …
review by . March 04, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Avoid this Fate
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU   Written and Directed by George Nolfi   Starring Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, Jack Slattery and Terence Stamp       David Norris: If I’m not supposed to be with her, why do I feel this way?       If you knew that being with you meant that the person you love would never realize his or her dreams, would you walk away from them?  If you wanted to, would you even be capable?  As …
review by . June 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   The Adjustment Bureau tries to make an analogy regarding today's world policies and differences between the highly corporations and the "average" people or better put regarding today's world "moral" slavery. However, trying does not equal succeeding and therefore we are witnesses to a decent idea managed poorly.      David Norris (Matt Damon) an ambitious young politician chases a seat in the U.S. Senate but due to a small error which …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


The story is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story "Adjustment Team", and features a smooth-talking congressman whose political future is thrown in doubt by uncontrollable events and the arrival of a mysterious ballerina in his life.

Matt Damon plays David Norris, a former Fordham University basketball player and charismatic United States Congressman who seems destined for national political stardom. He meets a beautiful ballet dancer named Elise Sellas, played by Blunt, only to find that strange circumstances keep them from becoming romantically involved. Norris discovers forces are at work to keep them apart, and he peels the layers to find out why. The action takes place in various places in Manhattan.

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Director: George Nolfi
Genre: Romance, Thriller
Release Date: 4 March 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Philip K. Dick, George Nolfi
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