While Spielberg’s recent work hasn’t been worthless per se, all of his movies for nearly a decade have been uneven at best: his “Jurassic Park” movies were fun monster flicks but excised all the scientific research Michael Crichton put in the novels and, while well meaning, “Amistad”, “Saving Private Ryan” and last summer’s “A.I.” were painfully maudlin. With “Minority Report”, Spielberg is back to top form, delivering an amazing picture with both the excitement of the “Indiana Jones” trilogy and the thought-provoking vision of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. It doesn’t have the heart of “E.T.” and “Schindler’s List”, but it’s not that kind of film.
“Minority Report” is a dark and twisted science-fiction thriller, adapted by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen from a short story by Philip K. Dick, whose work also inspired “Blade Runner” and “Total Recall”, the makers of the latter having even considered making a sequel out of the same story which became this film. The premise seems yanked right out of current headlines about the Bush administration’s announcement that “pre-emption and defensive intervention are to be listed as formal strategic options”. Hence, it’s not that big of a stretch to imagine that by 2054, Washington will have its Pre-Crime Police Department, where detectives use computer images transmitted from the minds of psychics to foresee homicides and arrest the suspects before even they commit the crime.
John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the field chief of this unit, and he undoubtedly believes the system to be perfect. After all, there hasn’t been a homicide in Washington in 6 years… And if Pre-Crime had been thought up a couple of years earlier, maybe Anderton wouldn’t have lost his son to a child killer and he wouldn’t spend every night holed up in his apartment doing dope to numb the pain. Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), an investigator sent by the Attorney General, is not so sure the technology is flawless, and when the “Pre-Cogs” finger Anderton himself as a future murderer, suddenly he starts questioning things too…
Spielberg does so many things right in this film that you wonder where to start in praising it. The beginning is as good a place as any, I suppose, and in this case it has to applauded. While many movies take a while to involve you, “Minority Report” grabs you right away with a riveting opening sequence in which Anderton and company have only minutes to get to a future homicide scene before it comes to be. Only some twenty minutes later does the movie slow down for minimal, mostly visual exposition.
By then, we’ve caught a glimpse of a mid-21st century city rich with innovations like magnetic cars who can go up the sides of buildings, personalised holographic advertisement, hovercopters and self-updating animated newspapers, but Spielberg doesn’t revel in the future gadgetry. He sticks tight with the plot, an intricate and unpredictable whodunit, or more accurately a “whydunit”. Anderton knows who the killer is already: himself! But how do you prevent a murder when you’re both the killer and the detective?
The film revolves around Anderton’s struggle to answer this and/or clear his name, while running away from his own colleagues. And run he does! The whole middle part of the movie is a brilliantly crafted chase packed with suspense, surprises and beyond cool stuff like jet-packs, “proto-guns” and electronic spider thingies. There are also some touches of grotesque and quirky humor, basically things we would expect from a Terry Gilliam flick. And best of all, the story culminates not with shit blowing up but with a MORAL climax! Not since 1999’s “The Matrix” has a movie juggled kick ass action and challenging ideas so deftly.
Let’s also highlight Cruise, who gives another strong performance and continues his streak of superior films, which spans from the wildly entertaining “Mission:Impossible” flicks to the two wonderful movies he made with Cameron Crowe (who cameos in “Minority Report”, returning the favor to Spielberg, who had a walk-on in “Vanilla Sky”), Stanley Kubrick’s final masterpiece and the absolutely great “Magnolia”. Farrell is interesting and charismatic too, and Samantha Morton is wrenching as one of the Pre-Cogs whom Anderton… Well, you’ll see! For all this and more, “Minority Report” easily ranks as the best summer blockbuster in years. Welcome back, Steven!