Minority Report
review by Gregory Avery, 28 June 2002

The basic premise of Steven Spielberg's new film Minority Report -- set in the year 2054, a little over fifty years into the future -- couldn't be more simpler or more resonant: a law enforcement officer who prevents crimes by arresting people before they commit them finds out that he himself is implicated in committing a "future" crime, and must therefore find out how it is going to happen before it is due to occur.

Based on a short story published in the 1950s by Philip K. Dick, who spent much of his career questioning what is, or is not, "reality, the film casts Tom Cruise as John Anderton, an expert at interpreting the images transmitted from a trio of "pre-cogs, a woman and a pair of twins who are kept isolated at the Pre-Crime unit in Washington, D.C., hooked-up to electrodes and partially submerged in a manner which, while we are told causes them no discomfort, makes them appear to be virtual prisoners, like the glass tubes that isolate and contain convicted criminals in the film's version of a futuristic prison. (Inmates are "haloed, then stored in the "inferno.) Eventually, the story works out so that Anderton has to abscond with one of the "pre-cogs, the pale, hairless Agatha, and it is the type of dramatic situation that Spielberg loves to tackle, like a complicated puzzle for grand masters. For one thing, security in the story's settings is very much keyed to retinal scanning -- like fingerprints, no two retinas or corneas are alike -- and Anderton has to figure out how to first get into a building that will recognize his actual retina, then past an inner security point that he can only get through using his actual one. The way this is done is gruesome but not unamusing in a macabre way (it also doesn't play to the infamous "oh, gross" levels of The Goonies). It also figures into one of the film's overall themes, which is of life in a society that has given up a certain amount of secrecy. Along with routinely invading people's homes to arrest them for acts they haven't yet committed, there are scenes depicting passers-by and mall shoppers who are scanned by electronic advertisements when then send personalized pitches for products their way. (The film's use of recognizable brand and company names seems partially like a nod to Kubrick's 2001, but it also draws us into wondering if we could ever find ourselves living in such an environment of constant bombardment.) There is also a scene where a building is searched by electronic spiders which both save on manpower and are able to skitter anywhere, checking people, both passive or not, for their identities 

Anderton's nemesis is Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), an emissary from the Attorney General's office (and, in passing, a former seminary student) out to check and see if the Pre-Crime unit is flawed or not -- he seems more than amenable to the idea of breaking something that doesn't have to be fixed. But the film throws in a neat turn about two-thirds of the way through, making us realize that our presumptions were all wrong: the people whom we had comfortably, even callously, assumed to be who they were turn out to be quite the opposite, all along. We've come to live in an age of certainties which, in turn, have bred a certain amount of cynicism, and contempt -- and the filmmakers, here, seem to be out to defy us.

Filmed in a smoky palette by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski that takes out almost all bright colors, Minority Report is, visually, Spielberg's darkest film, and, thematically, his own "film-noir. Anderton's dilemma causes him to question all that he believes in, and he ultimately has to disassemble the "perfect" form of crime prevention that he has up until them believed in (the "pre-cogs, it is learned, may differ in how they each may interpret or perceive the images of events they see, causing a disagreement among the three and the "minority" referred to in the title)---a process that ends up leaving him scarred, physically and emotionally, but also gives him some renewed hope. The story takes Anderton and the freed "pre-cog, Agatha (Samantha Morton), to the home where Anderton lived with his wife, Lara (Kathryn Morris), before the disappearance of their young son. Morton plays her character with a palpable sense of vulnerability that's breathtaking, but she also provides the film with its one aching moment, when she touches the wood in the vanished son's room and quietly says, "There was so much love, here."

Cruise's reaction in this scene us also his most affecting moment in the film. Cruise, God love him, is so eager to please, so genuinely willing to want to give us his very best. It's difficult not to notice how hard he's worked -- and, from his musculature, how much work he's spent getting into shape -- to do his very best in every aspect of this film. But he was so much more communicative as an actor before he bulked-up, in films like Born on the Fourth of July and The Color of Money. He works so hard to be "genuine, here, that he actually becomes further from being genuine than less artful, or less handsome, actors (or artful, but less handsome, actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, his co-star in Magnolia), like noticing the polish without becoming engaged in the detail. (It should be noted that the film is generally well acted from top to bottom, with two particularly brilliant turns, one short and the other longer, by Lois Smith and Max von Sydow.)

And, beneath all the minutiae (in recalling the film, there comes to mind what one reviewer said of Batman Forever, "As for the plot...well, there's a lot of it."), there's still the sneaking suspicion that we've seen it all somewhere before. Spielberg loves movies and he loves the process of moviemaking: watching the scene where Cruise's character escapes from a car, only to end up seemingly imprisoned in another one that's being assembled but which, then, turns out to be a mode of escape, is to watch someone who, like Scorsese, loves making films and the communicative process of films. Spielberg has also made no bones about the fact that he draws on filmmaking's past (Scorsese does it, as did Truffaut and Godard), and, in making his film noir, there's a feeling of maybe having cribbed a bit too much in order to fully realize this film. "Careful, chief: you dig up the past, all you get is dirty," one character tells Anderton, and ghosts from Robert Mitchum and Raymond Chandler black-and-white films seem to bleed through the new film's imagery: in one instance, images from Samuel Fuller's postwar Tokyo crime drama House of Bamboo literally do rise up behind the new film's imagery. One wishes this film were made more innocently -- the way, as Orson Welles put it, "Adam named the animals" in Eden. This doesn't mean Spielberg should go backwards (please, no more Hook or Always), but, rather, a hope Spielberg will go forward upon a valid path where he can express himself in his own way as no one else has done before. Cunningly, though, Spielberg may be one step ahead of us, here, as he ends this film with a depiction of Samantha Morton's character, at peace, freed from the "disease of images.

Directed by:
Steven Spielberg

Starring:
Tom Cruise
Colin Farrell
Samantha Morton
Peter Stormare
Kathryn Morris
Lois Smith
Max von Sydow

Written by:
Scott Frank
Jon Cohen

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be in appropriate
for children under 13.

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