Screenplay : Scott Frank and Jon Cohen (based on a short story by Philip K. Dick)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2002
Stars : Tom Cruise (Detective John Anderton), Colin Farrell (Detective Ed Witwer), Max von Sydow (Director Lamar Burgess), Samantha Morton (Agatha), Steve Harris (Jad), Neal McDonough (Officer Fletcher), Patrick Kilpatrick (Knott), Jessica Capshaw (Evanna), Erica Ford (Jill), Lois Smith (Dr. Iris Hineman), Tim Blake Nelson (Gideon)
As they are arguably the most internationally successful director and male star of the second half of the 20th century, it was only a matter of time before Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise made a movie together. Both are consistently able to impress both the critical establishment and draw the mass audience (for example, Spielberg could have the then-biggest box office hit of all time with Jurassic Park in the same year that he took home Best Picture and Director Oscars for Schindler's List, while Cruise could top the $200 million mark with Mission: Impossible 2 only six months after his role in Magnolia was nominated for an Oscar). These two men literally define Hollywood success and box-office clout.
Thus, there is quite a bit riding on Minority Report, particularly since both Spielberg and Cruise are coming off what have been perceived as relative disappointments in 2001, with Spielberg's ambitious and underappreciated A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which failed to make $100 million domestically, and the Cruise vehicle Vanilla Sky, which did top the century mark, but was widely derided in many circles. Despite those "disappointments," neither one of these men looks anywhere close to being on the ropes, and Minority Report should resolidify their respective standings, as it delivers the thrills of a summer movie with an intellectual edge.
Loosely based on a 1956 short story by Philip K. Dick (whose works have also inspired such films as Blade Runner and Total Recall), Minority Report takes place in the year 2054, where an experimental crime-prevention program known as "Precrime" is entering its sixth year in the U.S. capitol. The Precrime Division utilizes a combination of advanced technology and a threesome of genetically engineered clairvoyant humans known as "precogs" to stops murders before they take place. Able to see the future, the precogs alert the Precrime authorities to a murder about to take place, and officers sweep in and arrest the would-be killer, who is then taken away and cyrogenically frozen in a futuristic pod prison.
Cruise stars as John Anderton, one of the lead Precrime detectives and the system's most fervent defender. When Ed Witwer (Colin Farrell), a fastidious and aggressive government agent working for the attorney general, begins investigating the Precrime Division to look for flaws before it goes national, Anderton immediately jumps to its defense, arguing that, even though people are being arrested for crimes they didn't commit, just because they haven't done it yet doesn't mean they weren't going to do it. Working under Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow), the Precrime director and a sort of surrogate father figure, Anderton has invested everything he is into stopping murders before they take place, largely because of the losses he has suffered in his own life.
However, Anderton quickly learns to doubt the system when he is fingered by the precogs as being a future murderer of someone he has never met. With 36 hours to clear his name, Anderton has to avoid his own team of Precrime cops while trying to prove that he has been set up. But, has he been? After all, Anderton himself claims that the precogs are never wrong, so why should he be the exception? One of the most striking themes in Minority Report, which is especially prescient given the heightened security in the U.S. brought on by fears of terrorism, is that any system of crime containment seems foolproof until one finds himself in the crosshairs. It's always "perfect" when someone else is the focus.
Minority Report is stunning visually, narratively, and thematically. So many science fiction movies use their futuristic backdrops as merely that--backdrops. Here, however, the futuristic elements and advanced technologies are used to explore human possibilities for eliminating human error. As Witwer says at one point, he knows the system itself is perfect, but what he wants to find are the human flaws that might lead to its downfall.
The technological elements of the movie are everywhere, from the floating images of a computer interface the Precrime Division uses to determine where and how the next murder will take place, to the plethora of billboards and advertisements that scan the retinas of passer-byers and subsequently tailor their sales pitch, Minority Report paints an intriguing and believable future that is dimly recognizable, but still astonishing. Production designer Alex McDowell (The Crow, Fight Club) and the visual effects gurus at Industrial Light & Magic have done an amazing job of seamlessly combining sets and digital effects to create a realistic portrait of the United States in 50 years.
The screenplay, written by Scott Frank (Out of Sight) and novelist Jon Cohen, is a slick piece of work that borrows Dick's basic ideas and constructs around then an essentially old-fashioned whodunit of plot twists and turns that always has one more trick up its sleeve. The "innocent man on the run" dilemma is a classic device, and they infuse it with added depth in that Anderton is not a thoroughly admirable hero. Deeply scarred by life events and often reduced to burying his guilt in illegal drugs, Anderton is not a shining beacon of heroism, but rather a realistically flawed human protagonist for whom we root simply because we can feel what it would be like to be in his shoes. Cruise, always watchable on screen, gives a solid performance; it's nothing showy, but it fits the bill perfectly.
As far as Spielberg's work goes, he continues to impress with his ability to bring visual innovation to his films while not discarding what has worked in the past. Working again with cinematographer Janusz Kaminiski (with whom he has worked ever since Schindler's List), he gives Minority Report a gritty, grainy, oversaturated look, relying largely on cold blue tones, extreme contrasts, and an intense use of camera flares and beams of light. The comparisons to film noir are adept, both visually and narratively (not to mention the less-than-subtle homage paid to the great crime writers in the names of the three procogs: Agatha, Dashiell, and Arthur).
Spielberg also constructs a handful of bravura action sequences, including a high-speed race down a futuristic highway that runs both horizontally and vertically and what is sure to be the most-talked-about sequence in the film, where Anderton tries to hide in a bathtub of ice water from a host of creepy mechanical spiders that sense heat only to be given away by a single air bubble. The latter sequence also includes an impressive extreme high-angle tracking shot that moves across of a number of apartments, showing how the various residents react to the intrusion of these mechanical creepy-crawlies that then scan their retinas for identification (the shot reminds one of something Brian De Palma might have pulled off).
Spielberg has often been derided for the optimistic fairy-tale nature of his movies, and indeed Minority Report generates a particularly positive ending that is not ambiguous in the way that A.I. was. Yet, at the same time, much of the film allows Spielberg to indulge his darker side, particularly a sequence in which Anderton undergoes black-market eye surgery in order to allude all the retinal scanners that would give him away. This sequence is dark and queasy, with Cruise's eyes being pried open with metal clasps reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange, while the seedy rooming house in which the operation is taking place is a strong reminder of the continuation of stark class disparity, even in a future free of murder.
As the summer movie season is usually the bleakest in terms of intelligent movies, Minority Report is something of a godsend. Working with well-honed elements of both the science fiction and the crime-thriller genres, Spielberg has created a constantly invigorating blockbuster--a thinking person's action flick that grips you on the basic popcorn level but also leaves you with something to think about in the end. Particularly in this day and age, the question of what steps we are willing to take to prevent violence is one of the most pressing we face.
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick