Steven Spielberg, USA, 2002
Posted: June 23,
The late, great provocateur of the paranoid meets the Peter Pan of
Hollywood. Granted, author Philip K. Dick had more to occupy his mind than
the personal vendetta masked as J. Edgar Hoover's idea of criminal justice,
while Steven Spielberg has moved increasingly toward edgier material over the last
several years (most notably tackling Stanley Kubrick's long-planned A.I.
project last year). But the roundabout collaboration that is Minority
Report (based on a 1956 Dick short story) still makes for strange
bedfellows. Thankfully, Spielberg maintains many of Dick's darker notions
about America's future, even as his eternally optimistic boy-wonder
affectations get the better of him.
Set in the year 2054, Minority Report centers on John Anderton
(Tom Cruise, as good as he's ever been), head of a nascent Washington D.C. "Precrime"
unit that arrests murderers before their actual offenses can be committed.
Using a trio of liquid-immersed oracles (called precogs), Precrime
intercepts images of future homicidal events (usually of the crime of
passion variety, as the public has wisely all but ceased harboring any
thoughts of premeditated murder), and races off to prevent the killings
moments before they occur.
Anderton's near-fanatical devotion to the Precrime unit derives from the
fact that his young son was abducted while in his care several years
earlier, which led to the dissolution of his marriage to Lara (Kathy Morris)
and ultimately an addiction to drugs in order to cope with those long,
lonely hours off duty.
Anderton's driven motivation regarding the benefits of putting away
criminals before they commit crimes aside, there are some serious Bill of
Rights issues at work here. Spielberg and screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon
Cohen manage to prudently explore both sides of the
personal-freedoms-versus-guaranteed-safety issue. Minority Report may
take place 50-plus years in the future, but its examination of the
sacrifice of civil liberties in the name of greater security argument
gestures emphatically to the present day, especially in light of the recent
terrorist attacks in this country and demands for greater access by the
Justice Department into the lives of ordinary citizens under the Homeland
The presumed infallibility of the Precrime unit has led to a proposed nationwide
rollout, which pleases but also concerns the program's
director (a strong Max Von Sydow), who's proud of the unit's success but
worries he'll lose control once it spans the continent.
Then that crucial infallibility aspect gets called into question when Anderton's
name pops up as a future murderer. So Anderton runs, hoping to solve the
mystery of just whom he's supposed to kill in less than two days' time,
while avoiding capture by the very team he helped to assemble in the first
place. The irony of the situation is not lost on Spielberg, who ratchets up
the tension masterfully as Anderton struggles to remain free long enough to
find the answers he's looking for. Agatha (an eerily effective Samantha
Morton), the most powerful of the precogs, winds up journeying with Anderton
as he makes his way through the slums and high-rise tenements of future
D.C., hoping to help the beleaguered detective and steer him toward
unraveling a tragedy haunting her own past.
As the tableau unfolds, Minority Report boasts several strong
performances, starting at the top: Cruise reaffirms his position as one of
Hollywood's most compelling leading men. Colin Farrell also does fine work
as Danny Witwer, a hotshot fed looking to take over the Precrime division
once it goes nationwide, while Lois Smith makes a brief appearance as Dr.
Iris Hineman, the geneticist who helped "create" the precogs and has since
become a disaffected recluse. On the technical front, the effects are
stunning, smartly mixing the old with the new, thus blending in the coming
half century of advancements with what people already know. The editing is
crisp (at least until the final, turgid and tacked on feel of the ending)
and the sound top notch.
Up until the last thirty minutes, Minority Report works
marvelously well; it's tense, cynical and intellectually stimulating, as the
issue of whether the truth can ever really be known is repeatedly confronted
and vigorously wrestled with. But then Spielberg and his screenwriters
blink. On the verge of pushing the envelope farther than many a mainstream
Hollywood movie has ever gone -- of actually making a powerful statement about
the pitfalls of too much security and ending the film on a striking, if dour
note -- Minority Report caves in. In the frustrating final half-hour,
loose ends are conveniently tied up and the future stands bright and sunny
for all those who survive. Such an optimistic ending is blatantly
incongruous with the edgy tempo and paranoid mood so painstakingly established during the
preceding two hours. Does the blame lie with the test audiences, or was it
simply a matter of studio heads saying "No" to a bold statement about a
future where Homeland Security has run amok?
Despite its shortcomings, Spielberg has crafted one of his finer films.
Minority Report's greatest achievement is that it will make you
think, no small feat considering today's lowest-common-denominator
entertainment level. Unfortunately, it made this reviewer ponder what might
have been had it committed wholly to Dick's harder-edged but undeniably
powerful vision, rather than accepting compromises that should have stayed
where they belonged, somewhere in Never-Never Land.
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