I have a confession: I like Tom Cruise. Sure, he may be nuts. The famous jumping up and down on the couch screaming about loving Katie Holmes was certainly a bit much to be doing in front of millions of people. Being a member of the church of Scientology, also a bit wacky. But! I think the guy can act, he has a good screen presence, and he does action very well. Minority Report is one of those movies that feels like it should be crushed under its own expectations. Spielberg is directing, Cruise is starring, and it’s a futuristic sci-fi thriller. Being that loaded with talent is a challenge in itself, but Minority Report pulls it off well. Not only does it find success as an action movie, but the vision of the future it puts forth raises some interesting questions as well. I don’t think the future will end up exactly like this, but some of the small things, like the films take on advertising, are well on their way. Based off the Phillip K. Dick story, Minority Report takes place in a future where murderers can be prevented from killing their victims but jailed as if they actually did. The ethics of such a thing could be the subject of a whole book. The film raises these questions without becoming bogged down in them or getting preachy. The focus remains solely on the narrative despite the weighty ethics issues involved, which gives the audience an enjoyable action film that actually fires some synapses.
Cruise plays John Anderton who is the head of Washington D.C’s experimental “PreCrime” unit. Using visions from three precognitive and drugged up humans (referred to in the film as PreCogs) Anderton and his team can see murders before they happen and find the future offender in time to stop him. The film’s opening details one such investigation that has to take place in minutes and is beautifully done as almost a futuristic police procedural. One instantly gets a sense of tension and racing against the clock that keeps up for the rest of the movie. That PreCrime has prevented any murders from happening in the DC area for years does not mean it’s without critics, most notably Colin Farell as Danny Witwer, a government agent assigned to asses the validity of the unit. It becomes clear from the get go that not only is Witwer skeptical about the whole thing, but also wants to bring it under complete government control and take Anderton’s job in the process. This could be a movie within itself, but Steven Spielberg is not big on a thriller of office politics, even mixed with murder investigations. (Jurassic Park was the same way. We could focus on the ethics of making dinosaurs and the science behind it and have one kind of movie that would probably still be good, but you know what would be better? IF THE DINOSAURS GOT LOOSE AND STARTED EATING PEOPLE. Kudos Steven Spielberg.)
The dinosaurs eating people equivalent in Minority Report happens when Anderton gets an alert of an upcoming murder in which he is the killer, seeing himself murder a man he doesn’t even know. His only choice is to run and try to clear his name, although doing so will invalidate the whole idea of PreCrime. Be prepared for lots of chase sequences and intense minor characters (in true Spielberg fashion) but the film never failed to keep my attention. The vision of the future is an interesting one, with cars turning to autopilot once they hit highways and newspapers being flexible computer screens with video (that isn’t as far away as one would think!). The most interesting part to me is the way the advertising works in this world. Machines retinal scan everybody as they go about their day in very big brother fashion, but the result is stores know who you are the second you enter, or even billboards, and the advertising is tailored to the person nearest by name. I don’t know if this was Phillip K. Dick’s cleverness or Spielberg’s, but to me it seems a natural extension of computers remembering our browsing habits and changing the ads we see on websites (mine are video games and florists, go figure!). Oh, did I mention this future also contains sweet jetpacks that the PreCrime police get to use?
The supporting cast is excellent all around as well, with Samantha Morton playing one of the PreCogs, Kathryn Morris (the woman from Cold Case, you’d recognize her) as Anderton’s ex-wife, and Max Von Sydow as Lamar Burgess, the man who invented the PreCrime unit. My favorite character in the entire film though is Peter Stormare’s character of Dr. Eddie. I won’t spoil his short but memorable time on-screen, but he plays a man Anderton must work with to keep his identity a secret. Much of the movie is spent with Anderton in situations in which he must be escaping from the authorities, hence the “everybody runs” tagline. The action scenes hold up today even though the movie is from 2002, with the special effects still impressive. It helps that Spielberg has been shooting action forever and really knows what he’s doing of course. Highlights include Anderton escaping a PreCrime police unit with some creative jetpacking and an encounter with Danny Witwer and his g-men in an automobile plant. Reality might go out the window a bit, but the unique weapons (energy shotguns that only stun? nice!) and setting make it stand out.
Minority Report is impressive in that it really doesn’t try to do too much. Acting based on knowledge of the future is a tricky subject (if one knows the future it can be changed right?) but Spielberg leaves the really heavy stuff out on the peripheral and focuses in on Anderton’s story. Cruise can be a little overbearing at times and make you realize your watching Tom Cruise and not the character of John Anderton, but those moments are brief. Minority Report is worth revisiting if you haven’t seen it in a while, and the recent Blu-Ray release looks surprisingly good for an older movie. Blockbuster science fiction movies can sometimes get a little preachy (Avatar) or just make no sense (Transformers), but this one doesn’t fall prey to either. Good acting, memorable characters, high quality special effects, and a unique vision of the future make Minority Report worth your time.
Filed under: Movies | Tagged: Agatha, Cold Case, John Anderton, Kathryn Morris, Max von Sydow, Minority Report, Minority Report review, Peter Stormare, Phillip K. Dick, Precog, precognition, precrime, Samantha Morton, Steven Spielberg, sweet jetpack, Tom Cruise |