Minority ReportReviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 06/21/02 11:31:22
There’s been a whole lot of bizarre Spielberg-bashing going on over the past few years, most of which decries the filmmaker’s tendency to lean a bit towards “overt sappiness” leading to “audience manipulation”; that last summer’s A.I. was a confused mess culminating with a trite and muddled finale; that the guy has simply lost his ‘edge’ – whatever that means. As far as I’m concerned, modern moviegoers should be THRILLED that they’re living in Spielberg’s era. The movies would be an infinitely worse place to visit were it not for a director of his storytelling caliber.So clearly I’m a fan. Forgive me for appreciating the talent that brought the world Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters and 1941. (No, I’m not kidding. I adore 1941.) He’s also given us the defining film about the Holocaust (Schindler’s List), one of the most underrated “war” films ever (Empire of the Sun), and the most shockingly realistic depictions of trench warfare ever filmed (Saving Private Ryan). Sure, there have been a few turkeys along the way, but even Hook and The Lost World have throngs of supporters. Though not all of Spielberg’s movies are classics, he’s simply never made a wholly bad film.
Plowing full-steam ahead with the box-office collapse of A.I. behind him, Spielberg once again tackles the sticky genre known as ‘cerebral sci-fi’. No warp drives or Wookies here; Minority Report is glorious Science Fiction in the strictest sense of the phrase – and I’m betting that even the Spielberg fans who disliked A.I. will find much to enjoy with this one. It’s rare to find a film that dazzles the eye, challenges the brain, AND satisfies our lust for fast-paced action scenes, but Minority Report delivers all that and a whole lot more.
The year is 2054 and Washington D.C. is six years into its “Precrime” experiment. Through the use of some ridiculously high-tech (and extremely cool) technology and the efforts of three human ‘precogs’, officers on the Precrime squad can actually predict when and where a murder will occur. After filtering the precogs’ visions through the massive computer displays, the squad is able to converge on the eventual crime scene and apprehend the killer before he commits his murderous act.
In the six years since Precrime has been instituted, prediction rates have proven staggeringly accurate, and murders have gone down 90% - and the seemingly infallible experiment is about to go nationwide. It’s all very fascinating and safe – until Precrime Chief John Anderton is targeted as a future killer. Accused of killing a complete stranger (36 hours in the future), John must pull off the impossible: escape detection and avoid the omnipresent technology of his fellow officers while trying to prevent his pre-destined crime. But if the system is perfect...how can John avoid his fate?
There are more fascinating concepts and dazzling ideas in Minority Report than in any five science-fiction flicks combined. Though the advertisements are wisely touting Minority Report as an action flick (you gotta get people in the door), the truth is that the film most closely resembles a satisfying old gumshoe mystery from the 1950s. Although the technology and setting might be extraordinarily advanced, Minority Report is simply about one (hopefully) innocent man trying to clear his name. Various red herrings and McGuffins abound, and Spielberg keeps the plot chugging along quite nicely while introducing us to some fascinating characters, jaw-dropping effects, starkly stunning landscapes, and deliciously high-minded moral dilemmas.
Let’s take a brief sidetrack to mention the late author Philip K. Dick. This visionary science fiction writer provided the source material for the classic films Blade Runner and Total Recall. (OK, his works also inspired the so-so Peter Weller flick Screamers and the moronic Gary Sinise film Impostor, but let’s focus on the positive here.) Minority Report, though it may not measure up to the deservedly immortal status of Blade Runner, certainly fits in well with both the Ridley Scott masterpiece and Paul Verhoeven’s Mars-bound mini-classic. In other words, “Thank You” to the late Mr. Dick; your phenomenal stories have inspired at least three great films that otherwise would never have been conceived. (You don’t really think that Hollywood screenwriters could come up with sci-fi ideas this clever, do you?) Scott Frank (writer of several quality films, most notably Out of Sight and Get Shorty) and first-timer Jon Cohen have adapted Dick’s story brilliantly, keeping the author’s prodigiously warped (yet logical) concepts and ironic tone, while fleshing out the story to involve a whole lot more. Minority Report may not be an entirely flawless film, but the screenplay is solid gold.
As the coolly kinetic John Anderton, Tom Cruise proves once again (for those who refuse to believe it) that he’s a supremely underrated actor. I realize it’s fashionable to denigrate the skills of whoever’s currently on top, but in Cruise’s case it’s clear that talent and popularity are not mutually exclusive. Colin Farrell (Hart’s War) offers his best work to date as a Justice Department liaison who spearheads the manhunt for the wayward officer, while the seemingly immortal Max Von Sydow is his usual rascally self playing John’s longtime friend and mentor. The hidden gold (and one of the film’s best assets) comes in the shape of Samantha Morton, playing one of the three all-seeing precogs. Though she spends much of the film floating in a giant bathtub, her character figures into the proceedings a lot more as the chase progresses, and the young actress (best known for her work in Jesus’ Son or Sweet and Lowdown) is spot-on perfect. (For another example of how far south this character could have gone, think Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element...or better yet, don’t.) Peter Stormare (the fascinating psychotic in Fargo) contribiutes a fantastically warped turn as the future's most sleazy surgeon. Neal McDonough (last seen in HBO’s Band of Brothers) and Steve Harris (one of the only worthwhile aspects of 1999’s Mod Squad) add some color, offering strong supporting performances as two of John’s former subordinates who are now tailing their estranged pal.
There are so many challenging ideas and clever constructs in Minority Report that you’ll be chuckling at the sheer ingenuity of it all. A sequence in which an army of robotic spiders infiltrate a decrepit tenement ranks among the coolest I’ve seen in years, the soon-to-be-famous ‘jet-pack’ escape is dizzyingly exciting, John’s sprint through an automobile assembly line is pure escapist wizardry, and there’s a covert chase through a mall that’s one of the smartest action bits ever conceived. (Imagine trying to protect someone who can see five minutes into the future; if they offer any practical advice – you should definitely listen!)
Minority Report works on just about every level it shoots for. It’s a fascinating science fiction film, full of weighty moral questions and ‘what-if’ scenarios. Though it’s certainly not littered with wall-to-wall mayhem, the action sequences are elaborate, intricate and altogether invigorating. There’s that oh-so-controversial “human element” so prevalent in Spielberg’s work, and in this case it’s a healthy heart indeed.Fans of staggering special effects and massive set design will have a field day feasting on Minority Report, while those looking for compelling acting performances and a challenging-yet-satisfying screenplay will have nothing to complain about. Say what you will about Steven Spielberg, but I for one am quite glad to have him around. Minority Report marks his best work since 1993’s Schindler’s List, and it’s easily one of this year’s best movies.
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