MINORITY REPORT

Released by 20th Century Fox/Dreamworks Pictures
Starring Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, and Max Von Sydow
Written by Scott Frank and Jan Cohen, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick
Directed by Steven Spielberg


Set in a beautifully rendered and wonderfully imagined future, Minority Report is a film that ultimately fails to live up to its amazing potential, coming across as overlong by about 20 minutes, and another example of Spielberg making a safe picture that's prone to unwelcome moralizing.

Minority Report meshes Philip K. Dick's cynical vision of a dystopian future with Spielberg's tendency for attractive schmaltz, and the result is a breathtaking landscape. Set in the year 2054, America has been realistically "futurized," with retinal scanners serving to ID everyone, very advanced cars and highways, and a lot of the perennial problems plaguing the country today.

Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise – do I really need to list his credits?) is head of Washington DC's "Pre-Crime" unit. The first of its kind in the country, and a model for a proposed national program, Pre-Crime gets reports of future crimes from three telepaths and dispatches squads of officers to stop the crimes before they happen. The fact that the officers are basically arresting innocent people is only peripherally touched upon, one of several major philosophical conflicts the film fails to adequately address.

The three telepaths who "dream" the crimes in Technicolor 3D are named after famous mystery writers. Arthur, Dashiell, and Agatha are their names, and in case you didn't already know, they refer to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett, and Agatha Christie. The name choices are especially appropriate, as Minority Report takes the worst elements of Agatha Christie, while borrowing none of Conan Doyle's gift for intellecutual storytelling, nor Hammett's knack for the flawed hero (Sam Spade). Cruise's Anderton is not really flawed as much as he is pathetic in a compelling sort of way: depressed by the death of his son and the subsequent dissolution of his marriage, he has become a loner hooked on street drugs.

All is going well for Pre-Crime until a federal auditor, Agent Witwer (Colin Farrell of American Outlaws), appointed by the Justice Department suggests that Pre-Crime might not be prefect. The pre-cogs have never been wrong, and the system is a model of technology and efficiency, but it is still a system run by people. In one scene, Witwer suggests that the priests have always had the power, as opposed to the telepaths and their "Temple" home. This neo-religious conflict had the potential to be very interesting, but was never mentioned outside of one scene.

Eventually, Anderton himself becomes the focus of an investigation, as the pre-cogs envision him murdering a man he has yet to meet. Desperate to prove his innocence, Anderton subjects himself to radical surgery, risks capture numerous times, and even abducts the most powerful of the pre-cogs (Agatha). She tells him he has a choice, but there is no "minority report" for him: all three telepaths were in agreement that he would murder the man he doesn't even know.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT: There is a severe plot hole concerning Anderton's being on the lam. While hiding from Pre-Crime, he undergoes eye-replacement surgery, to fool the ubiquitous retinal scanners into thinking he is someone else. However, he is able to "break into" Pre-Crime and get into the top secret "Temple" of the pre-cogs by using his original eyes (preserved in a bag) to bypass the scanners. Considering that Anderton would be a very high-profile fugitive in a murder case, WHY would he still have access to high-level areas of Pre-Crime. His access should have been disabled immediately, and any attempt to use it should set off all kinds of alarms. This strikes me as careless storytelling, something that someone of Spielberg's reputation and caliber should not be engaging in. Also, after having the surgery, Anderton is explicitly instructed more than once to leave the bandages on for twelve hours or he will go blind. After just six hours, one of many small "spider" robots dispatched to look for Anderton finds him, and peels back one side of the bandage to shine the scanning light in his eye. Anderton does not go blind, and in fact suffers no ill effects at all. It's another example of careless storytelling. END SPOILER

Anderton's boss, Lamar Burgess (Max Von Sydow of Needful Things) is probably past retirement age, but stays on in the hopes of shepherding Pre-Crime as a national operation. The fact that Pre-Crime is even debated as being a national program is again glossed over. For a man who had made numerous movies dealing with difficult social, philosophical, and existential issues, Spielberg shies away from them in Minority Report, and the movie suffers for his reservations.

It also suffers from being about twenty minutes too long. It's a shame that directors feel a need to film a happy ending just to send American audiences home happy. There was a point at which to end the movie well before its actual ending, but that introduced things like questionable ethics and character ambiguity, and we certainly can't have things like that messing up our movies, can we? If Spielberg would stop trying to cut-and-paste the ethics of Schindler's List and the sappiness of AI onto all his films, I'd have a lot more respect for them.

Still, Minority Report is not without its strengths. The visuals are excellent, always powerful, and frequently stunning, a hallmark of Spielberg. The action sequences are also very good, and they frame the story of Anderton's quest to prove his innocence well. Lois Smith (probably best known for Fried Green Tomatoes) makes an excellent cameo as Dr Iris Hineman, the woman on whose work the Pre-Crime experiment is based. Her performance is brief and powerful (and her words raise still more questions the movie fails to answer), having an impact both on John Anderton and the story as a whole. If only Minority Report would have spent time dealing with the difficult questions as opposed to glossing over everything in the name of a nice Hollywood sugarcoating, it would earn higher marks. 5/10

Dr. Tom