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, who praised Damon's performance and his chemistry with Blunt. 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 2010 race.
A month later, David prepares for a new job. At Madison Square Park, near David's home, a man named Harry Mitchell receives an assignment from his superior Richardson. Harry is to spill coffee on David's shirt by 7:05 AM so that David will miss his bus. However, Mitchell falls asleep; David boards the bus, meets Elise and gets her phone number.
David arrives at work early and find everyone in the building frozen and being examined by unfamiliar men. David attempts to escape, but is incapacitated and taken to a warehouse. Richardson reluctantly reveals to David the existence of the "Adjustment Bureau". As its employees, Richardson and his men ensure people's lives proceed following "the Plan", a complex document Richardson attributes to "the Chairman". The Bureau confiscates and destroys the note that contains Elise's phone number, and David is warned that if he reveals the existence of the Bureau to anyone else, he will be "reset"—akin to being lobotomized. He is not meant to meet Elise again.
Three years later, David again encounters Elise on the bus; he tells her he spent three years riding that bus to work, hoping to see her. He learns that she dances for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. The Bureau tries to stop them from starting a relationship by altering their schedules and preventing them to meet. David races across town, fighting the Bureau's abilities to "control his choices" to ensure he will meet Elise. During the chase the Bureau uses ordinary doorways to travel instantly to distant locations.
Senior official Thompson takes over David's adjustment and takes him to the warehouse, where David argues he has the right to choose his own path. Thompson says humanity received free will after the height of the Roman Empire, but then brought the Dark Ages upon itself. The Bureau took control after five centuries of barbarism, and created the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the scientific revolution. When free will was granted in 1910, it resulted in World War I, the Great Depression, Fascism, the Holocaust, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, forcing the Bureau to retake control. Thompson implies that without Elise's influence David might become President of the United States, while Elise would become a world-famous dancer, and that 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 save them from the fate Thompson described.
Eleven months later, Charlie tells David of Elise's imminent wedding as he campaigns again. 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's adjustments. Just before the wedding David reaches Elise, reveals the Bureau's existence to her, and shows her how he travels through doors. The Bureau pursues them across New York City. David decides to find the Chairman to end the chase, with Elise accompanying him. They enter the Bureau's offices with agents in pursuit.
David and Elise find themselves surrounded on the observation deck of the GE Building. They declare their love and kiss before David can be reset. When they let go of each other, the Bureau members have gone. Thompson appears but is interrupted by Harry, who shows him a revised Plan from the Chairman: one that is blank starting from the current moment. Harry commends them for their devotion to each other, then says they are free to leave. David and Elise walk down the street as Harry speculates that the Chairman's goal may be to prepare humanity to write its own "Plans".Matt Damon as David Norris
Emily Blunt as Elise Sellas
Anthony Mackie as Harry Mitchell
John Slattery as Richardson
Michael Kelly as Charlie Traynor
Terence Stamp as Thompson, Head of the Bureau group.
Donnie Keshawarz as Donaldson
Anthony Ruivivar as McCrady
In early drafts, the character Norris was changed from a real-estate salesman, as in the short story, to an up-and-coming politician.
Media Rights Capital funded the film and then auctioned it to distributors, with Universal Studios putting in the winning bid for $62 million. Variety reported Damon's involvement on February 24, 2009, and Blunt's on July 14, 2009. The film was released on March 4, 2011.
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.
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.
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).
According to Nolfi there was an alternate ending, later revealed as featuring actress Shohreh Aghdashloo as 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 peoples' [sic] 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:
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.
Some reviewers identified Abrahamic theological implications, such as an omnipotent and omniscient God, the concepts of free will and predestination, and elements from the descent to the underworld (a mytheme dating back at least to the story of Eurydice and Orpheus). Moreover, it has been said that the Chairman represents God, while his caseworkers are angels. The director of the film, George Nolfi, stated that the "intention of this film is to raise questions."
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.
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.
Critics gave the film generally favorable reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 72% based on 237 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6 out of 10. Metacritic calculated that the film received an average score of 60 out of 100, based on 41 reviews. 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." 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." For the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner, United States President Barack Obama, while making humorous remarks about his sagging approval rating, said, "I've even let down my key core constituency: movie stars. Just the other day, Matt Damon...said he was disappointed in my performance. Well, Matt, I just saw The Adjustment Bureau, so right back atcha, buddy."
The Adjustment Bureau was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on June 21, 2011. The film was the top selling release for its opening week.