Film Reviews: Wednesday, June 20, 2002
An Ounce of Prevention

Minority Report is a harrowing vision of a future police state.


The issue of crime prevention vs. individual rights is hot right now, and Steven Spielberg’s disquieting Minority Report is a timely and matter-of-fact look at a state where everyone is safe but at the government’s mercy. Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, the movie’s set in the year 2054, when John Anderton (Tom Cruise) heads the Washington D.C. police’s experimental Pre-Crime Division. Three mentally damaged “pre-cogs” can foresee murders in the future, so the police keep these clairvoyants attached to electrodes around the clock in a special room and prevent murders by making arrests based on the pre-cogs’ predictions. Anderton’s certain of the system’s infallibility until it taps him as the future killer of a complete stranger. He has to flee his own colleagues while trying to find out why his name came up.

Spielberg’s chilling, paranoid view of the future carries over from his last film, A.I. He gives us a world with retinal scanners everywhere that inform the police where people are at all times. Anderton has to take extreme measures to avoid having his eyeballs scanned, so he visits a shady doctor and gets a treatment that refers overtly and queasily to a famous scene from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Spielberg uses lots of icy blues and harsh white light, and saturates the world with corporate logos, which occasions some clever jokes and helps give the film the feel of another movie based on a Dick story, Blade Runner.

The action sequences are basically all chase scenes, and the director works ingenious variations on this single theme. Anderton’s initial escape contains an inventive take on the old sci-fi fantasy about flying cars. Another chase in a dilapidated apartment involves some creepily intrusive robot spiders. Near the end, there’s a hushed scene where Anderton kidnaps a pre-cog (Samantha Morton) who helps him get away by predicting where his pursuers will be.

This is the first time Cruise has played a character who’s a father — Anderton works in Pre-Crime because he lost his son — and even though he’s not enough of an actor to key his entire performance to that fact as he should, he seems shaken in a new way in the scenes where he recalls the disappeared boy. He’s particularly memorable in a great scene where the pre-cog gives him a vision of his son safe and grown to adulthood. (Morton’s reading of the monologue is devastating.) The other actors also keep sentimentality at bay. Colin Farrell makes an impression as a shark-like FBI agent, and Daniel London and Tim Blake Nelson contribute some grotesque supporting turns. As a retired co-inventor of Pre-Crime, Lois Smith gets a ton of unwieldy dialogue in an overlong scene in a greenhouse, but she carries it off admirably.

Spielberg can’t resist slapping a happy ending on the film, but for the most part, he keeps his warm and fuzzy side on a leash. Without most of the psychological baggage that wrecked A.I., the movie’s an even more compelling dystopic vision, with the added kick of a good action thriller. Mordantly funny and visually brilliant, Minority Report works as both popcorn entertainment and cautionary tale, and proves once again what a force Spielberg is when he’s on top of his game.

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