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Majority Rules


Minority Report

Steven Spielberg, USA, 2002

Rating: 4.0



Posted: June 23, 2002

By Laurence Station

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 Security banner.

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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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterpiece
 4.0-4.9: Exceptional

 3.0-3.9: Solid fare

 2.0-2.9: The mediocrities...
 1.1-1.9: Poor
 0.0-1.0: Utter dreck
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