Minority Report Review

by Christian Pyle (Tlcclp AT aol DOT com)
November 4th, 2002

Minority Report
Reviewed by Christian Pyle
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen (based on a story by Philip K. Dick) Starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Max von Sydow Grade: B-
In 2054, murder is obsolete in Washington, DC. A police division of "pre-crime" uses the visions of three psychics to prevent murders before they happen. The would-be killers are arrested and imprisoned with a "halo," a device that plays the murders they sought to commit over and over. Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise) runs this pilot program, which is expected to be adopted nationwide in the near future. John is haunted by the murder of his son years earlier, a crime that could have been prevented by pre-crime.

Skeptical politicians have dispatched Detective Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) to find a fatal flaw in the system. It's Danny who raises the obvious moral question: how can society punish someone for a crime that was prevented from happening? John responds by rolling a ball down a table; when Danny catches the falling ball, John points out that catching the ball does not invalidate the certainty that it would have fallen to the floor.

Movie formulas are as unbending as the laws of physics. Thus, with the inevitability of the falling ball, John stumbles across a hint that all is not right with pre-crime. And, just as predictably, the system protects itself. The next prediction offered by the psychics is that John will murder someone, a man he's never met. As his former colleagues pursue him, John goes on the run and, of course, on a quest to clear his name.

"Minority Report" is based on a short story by legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, whose works have previously given us "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall." Like "Total Recall," "Minority Report" takes an intriguing concept and, rather than exploring its practical and philosophical implications, uses it as a catalyst for a standard Hollywood action movie. On that level -- as a futuristic remake of "The Fugitive"-- "Minority Report" works well. The innocent-man-falsely-accused plot has a paranoid, visceral appeal that makes it consistently appealing even though we've seen it before.

Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski creates a slightly-blurred future where the dominant color is a murky grey. The look at times suggests the film noir aesthetic of "Blade Runner" and "Dark City," but it also creates a singular impression. This is also Spielberg's darkest science fiction film in terms of theme. Generally the genre brings out a child-like sappiness in the director (see "Close Encounters," "E.T.," and "A.I."). In "Report," the script brings an edginess in its paranoia about the oppressive capacity of technology and the portrayal of its hero as a drug addict straining to maintain a façade of emotional stability. However, Spielberg also waters down those elements and tacks on a happy ending that rings false.

Spielberg consulted a team of experts to envision a future in which monorail cars are the primary mode of transportation within the city and in which databases allow people to be addressed directly by advertisements and instantly located by police. The commentary on advertising is insightful; however, it also serves as a vehicle for shameless product placement. (Spielberg, of course, virtually invented product placement with the Reese's Pieces in "E.T.")

© 2002 Christian L. Pyle

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