Minority Report Review
By Joe Lozito
Sci-fi is always better - or at least more accessible - when an old standard story is set against a fantastic backdrop. "Star Trek" was famously pitched as "'Wagon Train' to the stars" and "Star Wars" is a fairytale, complete with a Princess. Like "Bladerunner", to which this film owes a lot, Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" is a mystery couched in a futuristic backdrop. At its heart, it is a standard "hero gets framed" story. The story, however, is told in one of the most complete and realistic future-scapes ever filmed.
Starting with a fantastic premise from reliable sci-fi auteur Philip K. Dick ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" - upon which "Bladerunner" was based), in the future, using pre-cognitive humans, we are able to stop crime before it happens, the script by Scott Frank ("Out of Sight") and Jon Cohen hits all the points it needs to. There are a few things you can expect from any time-travel or prognostication story: at some point someone will have to make a choice that either (a) changes the future or (b) winds up coming to the same conclusion that had already been foretold. It's been done before in everything from "Back to the Future" to "12 Monkeys" to countless "Star Trek" and "X-files" episodes. The moral questions of predetermination, destiny and choice are given close examination throughout the film, there are plot twists, red herrings and backstory galore. The complex inner-workings of "precrime" and its history are realistically imagined and presented in a way that is surprisingly easy to understand to even the most uninitiated audience.
Mr. Spielberg and his team have certainly done their research: advances in advertising, urban planning, police work, computers, video screens, artificial intelligence, identity scanning, and a plethora of other tidbits are squeezed into the film's two-hour-plus running time. Of course, though set only 52 years in the future, certain advances seem far ahead of others. While clothing hasn't changed much at all (a welcome difference from most other unitard-laden sci-fi efforts), the Washington DC highway system seems to have been completely re-imagined. Honestly, the DC highway commission better get to work right now if they want to hit a 2054 delivery date.
It is exciting to watch a director who is in such complete control of storytelling and vision. Yes, there are moments of the Spielbergian schmaltz that we've come to expect from this director. Thankfully, however, nothing so egregious as the last twenty minutes that nearly destroyed "A.I." The moments in "Minority Report" work because they are more true to the story and the characters. Without Stanley Kubrick's shadow over his shoulder, Mr. Spielberg can be influenced without being steered by the late director, as he was in "A.I." The future depicted in this film is more grounded in the reality in which Spielberg is comfortable and as such, it lends itself to acceptable moments of tearjerking or cutesy mugging from its cast.
That cast, by the way, is in top form across the board. The film largely rests on Tom Cruise and he is up to the challenge. Having poked fun at his own pretty-boy identity in the horrendous "Vanilla Sky", he seems finally ready to get down into the muck the way a true action hero must. He shows his range more than ever here and he is given a strong supporting cast, notably Max von Sydow, Samantha Morton and Colin Farrell.
If the film fails at all, it is when it opts for the easy way out. The discrepancies in the film are such that I shouldn't divulge them here. Let's just say that the film fails to explain the exact workings of the event that starts the plot moving. Also, there is a question of security access that is used not once but twice which is simply sloppy storytelling. But that is always a danger when a movie sets up a high security future world. If this utopia is so perfect how can the hero escape? "Human error", this film would have us believe. Well, we humans may be fallible, but watching "Minority Report" reminds us that when we succeed, it can be beautiful to watch.