Minority Report Review

by Eugene Novikov (eugenen AT wharton DOT upenn DOT edu)
July 29th, 2002

Minority Report (2002)
Reviewed by Eugene Novikov

Starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow, Steve Harris, Neal McDonough, Peter Stormare, Tim Blake Nelson.

Directed by Steven Spielberg.

Rated PG-13.

"Everybody runs."
Steven Spielberg's Minority Report is a very good film for all of its running time, fascinating for most of it and visionary for some of it. As much as I hesitate to make such jejune comparisons, it is, I suppose, a step backward from A.I. Artificial Intelligence which didn't back off or settle down even for one second. The movie is technically accomplished, handily showcasing Spielberg's incomparable capacity for taking our breaths away, and yet it winds up a letdown when we finally find out where it's going. It's as if, after the undeserved drumming he took for A.I.'s unabashedly grandiose "20,000 years later" coda, he set out to deliberately underachieve. As a result, he gives us an unwanted opportunity to exhale.
The film shares its name with the Philip K. Dick short story, less the definite article, and mostly adopts his paranoid, cautionary vision of a technologically advanced future were personal privacy is but a distant memory. The US of Dick's imagination is in the early stages of a grand District of Columbia experiment called Pre-Crime, a division of the police department that uses three "Pre-Cogs," psychic beings submerged in water, able to do nothing but see crimes -- murders, mostly -- before they are ever committed. The system is never wrong, has never failed, and has practically eliminated premeditated murders in the District of Columbia area. That leaves only the crimes of passion to be prevented.

The head of the department is Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise), under the mentorship of aging chief of police Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow). Anderton truly believes in the Pre-Crime system, and does not take well to the outright hostility evident in young Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), a justice department rep sent in to investigate its alleged infallibility. Then the Pre-Cogs spit out Anderton's name as a future murderer -- premeditated, no less -- of a guy whom he's never even heard of. So he runs. Everybody runs.

The futuristic Washington, DC cityscape Spielberg composes is genuinely spectacular and mind-blowingly real. There's no comparison between this and the cartoonish backdrops of Lucas's Attack of the Clones; the ideas for Spielberg's dynamic painting are firmly rooted in the technology of the real world. The methodical, subtle invasions of privacy implemented by both the public and private sectors of Dick and Spielberg's America are choreographed with a cynical detachment both chilling and humorous. "Hello, Mr. ___________," greets the virtual employee of the Gap, after the front entrance performs an instant eye scan, "how are those jeans you bought last month?" In this world, you are identified whenever you board a bus or walk into a building.

There's action: chases, fights, escapes, even an impromptu eye surgery. Spielberg again proves to be a magician; his camera dives and swoops, seemingly unrestrained by the expensive artificial world he created to surround it. His is a method of efficient artistry, every shot serves a purpose, and yet every shot is composed with meticulous attention to detail. It's good to see that the man is still taking cues from the late Stanley Kubrick.

So I barely left the edge of my seat for just under two hours, at the same time awed, frightened, excited, involved. And then I felt Minority Report just kind of died, gave up. From the very beginning, Spielberg lets us suspect that his ambitions are sky-high, that he wants to deal in conflicts far beyond the ordinary contrivances of mystery and noir. And while I love mystery and noir, the startlingly down-to-earth conclusion of the movie left me cold considering what came before it. I didn't expect the movie to be satisfied with such a pat, simple resolution, with its heroes, villains and ethical dilemmas so transparent and clear-cut.

There's no doubt in my mind that Spielberg's last two movies, both grand, lengthy science-fiction odysseys, are more mature both artistically and intellectually than his hailed historical dramas, admittedly accomplished films like Schindler's List, Amistad and Saving Private Ryan. This is not to say that he should restrict himself. He is a uniquely gifted artist, technician and manipulator with the rare talent of surrounding a story with innumerable bells and whistles and still have that story shine brilliantly through. Minority Report is as exhilirating as it is frustrating

Grade: B+

Up Next: Sunshine State

2002 Eugene Novikov

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