NOW PLAYING: Minority Report

Posted: Monday, June 24, 2002

You know it's a blockbuster summer when a Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg movie is the one that slips under the radar and takes everyone by surprise. That's not to say that people weren't talking about Minority Report; they have been for nearly two years, ever since Cruise announced that he and long-time friend Spielberg would finally be working together. But then along came a certain web-crawler and a galaxy far, far away, and suddenly two of the heaviest hitters in Hollywood became the underdogs. All I can say is that this underdog has got some bite.

Tom Cruise plays John Anderton, a good, but tormented cop in the near future. He heads up Washington D.C.'s experimental Pre-Crime Unit, an astoundingly effective system which announces murders before they happen. Murder has, for all practical purposes, been wiped out in the capitol city, and Pre-Crime is being looked at to expand nationwide. The system is infallible, until, of course, it identifies it's champion, Anderton, as a would be killer. Suddenly Anderton is on the run, from the seedy, depraved underbelly of the city to it's slick, high speed vertical freeways. Somehow, something has gone terribly wrong with the system he so deeply believes in, and he's running out of time to figure out what it is.

Minority Report is at once a thrilling murder mystery and a thoughtful, though dark, essay on the price freedom has to pay for safety.. Steven Spielberg can pour on the action with the best of them, and this who-why-and-how-dunit will keep you on the edge of your seat. Particularly thrilling is a scene where Anderton leaps from car to car on a speeding freeway that actually goes up the sides of the towering skyscrapers. However, as exciting as the film is, it is the careful (and timely, as it turns out) examination of privacy versus security that really make it a success. After all, as is pointed out in the film, the people arrested under the Pre-Crime system have broken no laws. They are essentially innocent private citizens being held without trial and with no hope of parole. However, as is also stated in the movie, there has been not a single murder for six years. It's a hard issue to get around.

Another enduring moral question raised by the movie concerns the actual mechanism of the Pre-Crime system. The whole thing works because of the work of three 'precogs,' telepaths who, working together, sense murders before they happen and alert their handlers. While the public considers the precogs tantamount to deities who perform their duty as the ultimate public service, the truth is that the telepaths are treated more as machines to be kept running so that the system keeps running. Even human awareness is denied them, until, that is, Anderton finds he needs the information the female, Agatha, carries. It is her growth toward awareness that is one of the more compelling side-stories.

Aside from the superior story elements offered, is the incredible look of the film itself. Bathed in a shimmering blue/white light, the film seems almost overexposed at times. It lends an otherworldliness to a place that, but for the addition of fifty-odd years, should be very familiar. The cinematography bore a striking resemblance to that of Saving Private Ryan, though in an appropriately different tint. Clean, dazzling towers and dirty, rat infested flophouses are the indelible contrasting images that remain with you long after the film is over. The tone of the film leaps from world to world, as well. From cool, quiet professionalism which struck me as being almost Kubrickian, to wide eyed panic, Spielberg gives us a true flavor of this supposedly 'safe' society.

Cruise is excellent as Anderton. He breathes fresh life into the clich&eactute;d old good cop with bad habits routine. He and Spielberg work so well together, I hope they can do it again soon. Also superb is the entire supporting cast, with standout performances from Peter Stormare as a demented eye surgeon, Lois Smith as geneticist with a frighteningly protective garden, and Samantha Morton as the precog, Agatha. Morton is particularly good, and sufficiently creepy as she discovers the world around her, whispering the question, 'Is this now?' Colin Farrell and Max Von Sydow round out the cast, and do very well in their own right.

There's so much to like about this movie that it's easy to forget that there are some flaws. Some of the characters' motivations don't seem to have been thought out as well as they could have been, and, at times, the script asks us to take leaps of logical faith that aren't really justified. Minor discrepancies aside, this is easily the best movie of the summer so far. The title term 'Minority Report' refers to a disagreeing vision from only one of the precogs, but I think the judgment you'll hear concerning this Report will be unanimous. Grade: A

Minority Report is rated PG-13, but will be way too dark and scary for any younger viewers. There is enough language and violence to possibly warrant an R rating, but that would have been too damaging to the Tom Cruise/Steven Spielberg demographic.

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