Mark Reviews Movies


4 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow

MPAA Rating:  (for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content)

Running Time: 2:25

Release Date: 6/21/02

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Review by Mark Dujsik

What would you give up to make murder a thing of the past? Would you surrender your right to privacy? Would you allow personal information to be collected and used by any organization (public or private) that paid for or required it? Would you place your fate and trust in the hands of the faceless servants of politicos looking to gain a few more votes for their campaign? Would you abandon the ageless, entirely human distinction of free will? Would you care? The answers to these questions have already begun to appear, and with our track record so far, itís not entirely farfetched to consider Minority Report as relevant a warning as 1984 or Brave New World. Steven Spielberg understands this, and the result is quite possibly his darkest, coldest, most socially pertinent, subversive, and reactionary film to date. In this regard, itís the perfect answer to the critics of A.I., who I am sure will comment on the perceived irony of successfully but unintentionally summoning Stanley Kubrick on the film immediately after his intentional and highly publicized attempt. But the atmosphere, tone, and subtext are merely the tip of the iceberg; the entire film is a gripping success.

In 2054, the murder rate in Washington, D.C. has been reduced to zero. The reason is the establishment of the Department of Precrime, which analyzes the visions of three precognizant humans to stop murders before they happen. The Precogs (the trade term for the three psychics) can predict a murder to the second it will occur. The system is so effective that there has not been a murder in six years thanks to the work of people like department chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise). The federal government is preparing to bring the experiment to the national level, but before undertaking such an effort, the bureaucrats need to make sure there are no flaws with the system and send in one of their own, Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), to investigate. The officials of the department believe in the system, and even though Witwer doubts Andertonís capabilities to head the agency because of the loss of his son, he has strong supporters, particularly the director of Precrime Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow). Thatís all about to change when the Precogs predict that Anderton will kill a man within a few days. However, there is hope: Sometimes the Precogs disagree, and when that happens, the resulting vision is called the "minority report." The copy of the information is destroyed, but the original remains with the Precog who predicted itótypically Agatha (Samantha Morton), the most talented one.

The story blends elements of noir and action against a science-fiction backdrop as Anderton tries to unravel the mystery of the crime he is about to commit and at the same time propelling himself into a series of events that may cause him to commit the crime in the first place. Anderton is on the run for the majority of the film, and as a result, we are allowed to travel through the inner workings of the futuristic society. Information about people has been gathered, and retinal scanners are able to identify and keep tabs on individuals. The amount of information available has become overwhelming, and people are assaulted by personalized advertising (thanks to the retinal scanners) everywhere they go. Cyber-parlors serve up customized fantasies for a price. Is there any doubt why a police state has been allowed to thrive? Society has become apathetic; this is the price we pay to be kept safe. The film is bursting with ideas and thought-provoking ethical dilemmas. Spielberg and screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen (working off of a short story by beloved sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick) approach these questions throughout the narrative and do not simply let the characters sit back and talk endlessly about them.

Instead the film laces these concepts into the nature and execution of Andertonís investigation. Once it all comes together after a few plot twists, weíve been hit by the full gamut of arguments. Along the way, the film dazzles with superb visuals and exhilarating action and suspense sequences. The opening scene alone exemplifies the best of these characteristics. As Anderton and his team attempt to stop a man from killing his wife and her lover, we get to know how Precrime works. Thereís a marvelous scene where Anderton manipulates the Precogs gruesome visions on a large screen using simple hand movements as classical music plays in the background. Once the pieces begin to fit together, thereís a race against the clock as Anderton tries to complete the puzzle on the fly. Other great sequences include an elongated action set piece that starts as a fistfight in an alleyway, becomes a gravity-defying escape from agents in jetpacks, and concludes on a car assembly line. Thereís a cringe-inducing scene that will do for optometrists what Marathon Man did for dentists. Finally, a sequence involving "spiders" that swarm throughout an apartment complex catching people in compromising or embarrassing situations once again brings up social commentary along with a healthy dose of suspense.

Throughout the proceedings, Spielberg keeps the essentially seamless effects in service of the story and the story in focus of his characters. Tom Cruise is one of the most effective movie stars working in Hollywood today, and as Anderton, he combines his star appeal and the acting chops heís put on display recently to give one of his best performances yet. Cruise manages to garner sympathy even before we know the circumstances surrounding his almost destructive drive for justice. The way in which he handles the gradual acceptance of those circumstances lead to some powerful and poignant scenes. Samantha Morton has a relatively silent role, but when she speaks, it is with a haunting precision. Her monologue about Andertonís son is emotionally wrenching. Max von Sydow graces the screen with a refined, dignified persona, and Colin Farrell fleshes out the devoutly Catholic, by-the-book Witwer so completely that itís surprising how little screentime he actually has.

Spielberg has reached a creative turning point with this film and A.I. Since the beginning he has been an unparalleled expert in employing special effects and one of the great American cinematic storytellers. Heís in top form here, giving us an equally rousing and thought-provoking entertainment, but it also shows a continued effort to venture into a more uncompromising, mature vision. Minority Report is a wholly assured masterstroke from a director who may have just reinvented himself.

Copyright © 2002 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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