Minority Report Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
June 15th, 2002

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Back in 1995, Hollywood allowed us a bleak peek into the future with a largely unwatchable comic book-based sci-fi/action thriller called Judge Dredd. Portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in typical one-grunt fashion, Dredd was "six feet of armored justice" who served as judge, jury and executioner in 2139 Mega-City. He struck fear into criminals everywhere until he himself was framed for murder, and that's what most of the film tried to portray.

Seven years later, we get Minority Report, which, despite having a much finer pedigree both in front of and behind the camera, is eerily similar to Dredd (except it doesn't suck ass). Star Tom Cruise doesn't wear armor, and he's nowhere near six feet tall, but his Detective John Anderton does share a striking number of similarities with Stallone's Dredd. They both have no personal life or outside interests, each being completely and totally devoted to the law. Like Dredd, Anderton has a mentor played by Max von Sydow, and thanks to his ability to catch murderers before they kill (more on that later), he strikes fear into criminals as well. And wouldn't you know it? Anderton is framed for murder, too.

Roger Ebert called Dredd "a Blade Runner for audiences with Attention Deficit Disorder," which brings us full circle since Runner, like Report, was based on a story written by Philip K. Dick (he's also responsible for Total Recall and Screamers). Here, director Steven Spielberg sets Dick's story in 2054 Washington D.C., where not one murder has taken place in over six years. The reason for the killing drought is the highly controversial Department of Pre-Crime, a relatively new but extremely effective branch of the government that is able to deduce when murders are going to be committed, making it a whole lot easier to prevent them from occurring.
Revealing all of the particulars of Pre-Crime's system would give too much of Report away, but it revolves around three waterbound creatures called Precogs (short for precognizant). Ordinarily, the Precogs can predict a murder four days before it's going to happen, except for "red balls" (crimes of passion committed without any pre-planning). Anderton, who heads the Pre-Crime department, is given the name of the victim, the name of the killer and some brief images of the events leading up to the crime. He stands in front of a large translucent monitor and, using a pair of light-sensitive gloves, waves his hands around like he's conducting an orchestra as he pages through the images, which he rotates, enlarges and inverts.

Anderton's trouble starts when an Irish-born Department of Justice agent named Ed Witwer (Colin Farrell, Hart's War) arrives at Pre-Crime and starts sticking his nose into the Precog process. It seems that there is an upcoming national referendum on the Pre-Crime Initiative, which would find Anderton's lifeblood expanding throughout the country. Witwer seems eager to put the kibosh on the whole thing, which understandably puts him at odds with Anderton and his team of Pre-Crime agents (including The Practice's Steve Harris and Band of Brothers' Neal McDonough).

As if that wasn't enough to contend with, Anderton's next murder case reveals himself to be the future killer. The victim is a complete stranger and the images reflect an entirely unfamiliar setting. Assuming he's being setup by Witwer, Anderton runs, which makes Report a bit like a futuristic version of The Fugitive. And besides, it's fun to root for an innocent guy on the run (or at least we think he's innocent), especially on the heels of pro-crime dreck like John Q. During his flight, we learn a few disturbing things about Anderton's personal life and meet a bunch of pretty zany characters, played by the likes of Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), Mike Binder (The Mind of a Married Man) and Peter Stormare (Bad Company). To give away more of the story would be a bad thing, but I will say it's quite unpredictable (or parts of it are, anyway) and should knock the socks off anyone who enjoyed Spielberg's A.I.

Even if you can't get excited by Report's story (adapted by Out of Sight's Scott Frank and rookie Jon Cohen), anyone with a pulse above 40 will be floored by its visuals. Coldly photographed by Janusz Kaminski (A.I.), this version of the future is as wickedly cool and devastatingly depressing as what we've witnessed in 12 Monkeys and The Matrix. There is a ton of irritating product placement, but its handled in ways that puts other films to shame.

Like A.I., Report is pretty dark and may not be as accessible to the masses as one would hope from a summer blockbuster wannabe. That said, having Cruise on board will likely help immensely. He can put many more people in theatres than little Haley Joel Osment (even though the diminutive star can act circles around Cruise). Samantha Morton plays one of the Precogs in a role that was a whole lot slimmer than I had gathered from the film's trailer, and she's good enough here to notch her second Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Oddly enough, Morton's previously nominated role was for a performance in which she played a mute (Sweet and Lowdown). She's practically a mute in this film as well, but she can still out-act most of Hollywood without having to open her mouth.

2:15 - PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content

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