Minority Report, 2002. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Ferrel, Steve Harris, Neal McDonough, Max Von Sydow, Peter Stomare, Lois Smith, Kathryn Morris.

Synopsis:  In the year 2056, a radical experiment in law enforcement has eliminated the crime of murder in Washington D.C. The new Department of Pre-Crime uses a trio of psychic "Pre-Cogs" to predict murders before they happen, allowing them to intervene and incarcerate the perpetrators before anyone can get hurt. The system works: the crime of pre-meditated murders has all but disappeared from the minds of the populace, while "crimes of passion" are policed by a crack squad of policemen under the command of John Anderton. Anderton is a cop on the edge. His son was abducted from a public swimming pool several years earlier and the memory of it continues to haunt him. He drowns his sorrow in drug addiction and virtual memories of happier times. When the Department of Justice begins poking around his balliwick in preparation to take Pre-Crime national, he chafes at the oversight. Further, the Pre-Cog, Agatha, shows Anderton a vision of a murder that isn't in the official record of a case from several years before. Anderton begins to poke around in the records and discovers that there are several crimes for which the record of the individual psychics' visions have been discarded. When the Pre-Cogs finger HIM for the upcoming murder of a man he has never met, he knows something is amiss, that he has struck a nerve somehow. He has been set-up, but by whom? He flees the building as soon as the crime is seen by the Pre-Cogs and seeks out, Dr. Iris Hineman, the "mother" of Pre-Crime, who tells him that while the Pre-Cogs are never wrong, they sometimes disagree. The "Minority Report" on crimes where they disagree are the evidential visions that are apparently missing, but there is a back-up: the female Pre-Cog, Agatha stores all of them in her mind. Anderton concocts a plan to abduct Agatha from the "Temple" of the Pre-Crime building, but in order to move freely, he has to have his eyes removed and exchanged--every transaction in this future is accompanied by a retinal scan: privacy is a thing of the past. Anderton seeks out a renegade surgeon to perform the operation. Meanwhile, the Pre-Crime forces are getting close to him and search the apartment block where he is hiding with robotic spiders who can sniff out body heat and scan the retinas of every inhabitant. Anderton (barely) escapes and manages to abduct Agatha. Meanwhile, he continues to maneuover to the appointed time when he will commit murder....

Riding the New Wave:  Having tasted science fiction's "New Wave" from the sixties in his last movie (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), Director Steven Spielberg wallows in it in this movie. Minority Report is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the patron saint/crackpot visionary of the movement, and it bears some resemblance to other films based on Dick (notably Blade Runner and Total Recall). All of these films postulate a dystopian world where matters of basic epistemology and moral choice are fluid. The central questions of Minority Report revolve around whether or not the universe is deterministic: is there free will? Can someone be held responsible for an act that he hasn't committed yet? Is the future fixed in stone or can we change it? The film version of the story folds in other themes as well; matters of basic privacy and of the limits we place on freedom in the name of security. Minority Report spins off ideas in the way its father, Phil Dick, spun them off from his fiction. Many of the salient characteristics of the "New Wave" are manifested in this movie: a deep distrust of government and of the technological society we've built for ourselves, an emphasis on images spun from ideas, and a tendency to string scenes together regardless of internal logic. This last characteristic is also a characteristic of film noir and of pulp fiction in general, but where many singular instances of New Wave SF, film noir, and pulp fiction get away with this through sheer force of vision, Minority Report founders. Part of the problem is that Spielberg, a great director of whiz bang entertainments, doesn't have the intellectual rigor deal with the issues he raises. He presents the ideas suggested by the material, but doesn't explore them. But the main problem is that Spielberg doesn't have the instinct for the jugular. While this is certainly as dark a film as Spielberg is ever likely to make, it isn't dark enough. It procedes along a certain ruthless logic for part of its length, but abandons that logic two thirds of the way in in favor of a conventional ending (or, as conventional an ending as one will find in a movie that ends with a shot "borrowed" from Solaris). Taken individually, many of the set pieces are dazzling instances of pure cinematic technique. Taken as a whole, the film is a disappointment.

Performances: Tom Cruise has been making a career of casting himself against type of late. For all of the Mission: Impossible films he makes, he has been taking a chance on three film like Magnolia or Vanilla Sky, which cast him in a VERY bad light. Minority Report follows this trend. His John Anderton isn't particularly likable. He's a workaholic, fanatically devoted to a system that he believes in without any qualms; he's a drug addict; he wallows in self-pity. The downside of this is that Cruise is the wrong actor for this. He simply looks too damned healthy for the emotional demands of the role. Of course, the film is conceived as an action film, and when the film is indulging in action sequences, Cruise is suddenly very convincing in the role. Much like the film itself, the performance of its lead actor is not all of a piece. The other pivotal role is Agatha, played with admirable restraint by Samantha Morton. She gets things exactly right. She is traumatized by years of terrifying psychic visions and when she first emerges from the tanks at the Pre-Crime headquarters, all she can do is tremble and question whether or not what she is experiencing is "now." There is a light of other worlds in her eyes. Most of the other performances are rote--professional work turned in by professionals. The exception to this is the creepy Dr. Hineman, played by Lois Smith. In most movies, her character would be a standard Earth-mothery wise woman, but here, the character is turned on its head and made monstrous.

Style and Set-Pieces: As I said earlier, some of the individual set-pieces in this film are dazzling: the chase on the highway (where cars are held on the roadway by magnets and the roadway is as likely to be vertical as horizontal) is a marvel of special effects engineering; the search of the apartment block by the robot spiders is a tour de force in set design, special effects, and camera acrobatics; the scene where Agatha uses her precognitive abilities to elude the Pre-Crime squad in the mall is worth the price of admission. Other elements aren't so sangine. The depiction of advertising and media (a newspaper, for instance, instantly refreshes itself with breaking news), while clever, pokes holes in the imaginary world of the film. So much of it reeks of product placement that, while it is an interesting extrapolation, it speaks more about present-day movie-making economics than it does about the future. More than that, the fact that none of the corporate logos on display in the film has changed in fifty years is implausible. One wonders if the so-called "Curse of Blade Runner" will take its toll on the advertisers in THIS movie, as well (as a side note, the handling of the mass media in this film, combined with certain other elements, makes the movie play more like a Paul Verhoeven movie than a Spielberg film). Janusz Kaminski has filmed everything with a dreary, desaturated palette of colors that many of the film's visionary wonders seem particularly mundane. I suppose that this is the point, but it makes the film rather less fun to watch than it might be, and as a substitute for the style of film noir, it isn't up to the task. More interesting, I think, is the way Spielberg has composed the frame in portions of this film. Minority Report has found a way to composite multiple images in a single frame without compromising the flow of narrative, and these instances are striking. There are also a number of individual shots of characters that show the director at his most artful (the most famous of these among the film's early reviewers is a particularly arresting shot of Tom Cruise and Samantha Morton looking over each other's shoulders).

The Penultimate Truth: Minority Report is, unfortunately, less than the sum of its parts. I had to think long and hard about what was missing from this movie, and I eventually decided that it simply isn’t any fun. The future the film depicts and the way it is depicted is particularly joyless. The technology on display in the future is interesting, but it doesn’t make one say: "Gee whiz! I want one of those!" And, while Minority Report is more hermetically integrated than Spielberg’s last film, it doesn’t provide half the wonder and mystery. Alas...