Minority Report
M O V I E   R E V I E W   B Y   G A R Y   J O H N S O N

In the not-so-distant past, cinematic visions of the future came with completely re-designed social structures. 2001: A Space Odyssey gave us a cold, sterile view of muted human interactions. Blade Runner envisioned a dark, gritty world of textures and shadows with oppressive masses of buildings towering over the inhabitants. Brazil gave us a retro vision of antiquated technology grafted onto complex, convoluted systems that unreliably helped/hindered humans in their everyday life. And now Minority Report, the new film from director Steven Spielberg, offers a startlingly different vision, suggesting that parts of the future might not look all that different than today. Residential areas, for example, with their neat brownstone dwellings that surround well-manicured parks look fairly familiar. In contrast, the future is profoundly felt on the highways, where capsule-shaped vehicles move in careful unison. But arguably the most important innovation comes courtesy of law enforcement. The Department of Precrime has reduced the murder rate in the District of Columbia to zero. And now the methodology is being readied to go national.

In Minority Report, murder investigations look nothing like those of today. They take place in front of large, curved computer display panels that the investigator manipulates by wearing a special pair of gloves. Images can be grabbed and dragged across the panels. With a twist of the wrist, video images zoom in or zoom out. An investigator resembles nothing so much as a symphony conductor as he stands before the display panels, thrusting his arms to grab images, his chest pumped out. All that's missing is a baton.

This new investigation technique relies quite heavily on the input of a trio of "precogs" who foresee all potential murders. These are specially bred precognition experts who live a cloistered life and spend their days floating on their backs in a small pool, their minds linked and constantly attuned to outside mental vibrations that indicate a developing murder. Their minds provide images of the crime scene. The investigators must sort through these images to determine the location. Then a SWAT team of police officers is sent to interrupt the crime. They repel from airborne vehicles, crashing through skylights, and using jet packs to fly in pursuit of the potential perpetrators.

Tom Cruise plays Detective John Anderton. He's convinced of the superiority of the Precrime system, and he eagerly anticipates applying the same methods across the country. But not everyone is convinced of the system's infallibility. In fact, a contingent of federal investors arrives to examine the inner workings of the Precrime division.

Colin Farrell plays the federal investigator, Detective Ed Witwer, who shows up with a warrant and plenty of questions for Detective Anderton. The plot kicks into high gear when the "precogs" identify a new murder -- with the perpetrator none other than Anderton himself. Confident that he has been set up, Anderton resists arrest and flees, proving an astonishing sequence where he leaps from vehicle to vehicle on a highway that heads straight down the face of an office building. In his quest to determine the truth, he uncovers a little known footnote that has been tucked away in the recesses of the Precrime division: occasionally, one of the "precogs" has a vision that does not agree with the other two, and this vision is the "minority report" -- which is conveniently deleted from the database. Anderton's quest then is to find his own minority report. This alternative vision of the future may exonerate him, but paradoxically if he finds the minority report, it will prove that the Precrime system is fallible.

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, who also wrote the story upon which Blade Runner is based, Minority Report doesn't exactly look like any other Steven Spielberg movie. The story is told in muted blues and steely greys, with few of the bright flashes of color so typical of Spielberg. And while Spielberg's previous science-fiction excursions have frequently focused on children as central characters (as in E.T. and A.I.), Minority Report takes a more adult-minded viewpoint, focusing exclusively on adult characters and adopting a fatalistic, ominous tone that leans toward the overbearing; however the story avoids becoming overly oppressive with its headstrong rush of action set pieces, such as an eerie sequence where Precrime investigators release robotic spiders to seach an apartment building and scan the eyes of all the inhabitants (eyes become the thumbprints of tomorrow). In addition, the movie has a surprisingly pungent and gritty cast of supporting characters, such as Peter Stormare as a backstreet surgeon who specializes in eye transplants for fugitives from the law. This scene in the surgeon's grungy apartment/office, with its marvelously decadent décor, is possibly the highlight of the movie.

On the downside, however, Minority Report is filled with gaping plot holes. For example, the Precrime Department ultimately relies upon three just people -- the "precogs" who envision the potential murders -- and this makes the entire system horribly vulnerable. And how can the "precogs" correctly identify potential murder scenes when the crime isn't premeditated? And if John Anderton is so convinced of the system's infallibility, why is he so quick to reject the system's findings when it labels him as a murderer-to-be and go on the lam? Minority Report is frequently less than convincing. If you think about it too much, it starts to fall apart. It lacks the conviction of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, for example. Spielberg's film frequently feels more like a roller coaster in the way that it piles on the thrills. Occasionally it ventures into Blade Runner territory, as in the scene with Peter Stormare as the eye surgeon, but this is a gentler film that is more forgiving of human weaknesses.

Rarely has a movie arrived with such prescience as Minority Report. It echoes current concerns in America. With American intelligence and crime fighting agencies engaged in identifying potential acts of terrorism, critics have raised their voices about infringements upon personal liberties and the eroding of the Bill of Rights. Minority Report mirrors this concern with its emphasis upon identifying criminals before they commit crimes and then swiftly enacting justice,which in this case involves placing the subjects in a state of permanent slumber (and featuring Tim Blake Nelson in a wonderful supporting role as the inmates' caretaker).

Maybe the most interesting question posed by Minority Report will be answered by the American public: Can a movie that casts doubts on the reliability of law enforcement to root out potential criminals be embraced by audiences? It's a tough concept for audiences to find palatable at this time in history.

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]

Movie Studio Web site: Twentieth Century Fox
Movie Web site: Minority Report



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