Special Note: This review contains some spoilers.
Based on the short story by Philip K. Dick, "Minority Report" marks
the second futuristic, science-fiction epic Steven Spielberg has made
in as many years (after what I believe to be his greatest achievement,
"A.I.: Artificial Intelligence"). For Spielberg, undeniably one of
the most influential and visionary filmmakers of his time, the film
almost seems tailor-made for his marvelous visual sense and stunning
talent for storytelling. For all of its sweeping technical flourishes
and seamless visual effects, however, "Minority Report" is as shallow
and characteristically vacant as "A.I." was emotionally resonating
and creatively groundbreaking. In other words, though it pains me
to conclude, Steven Spielberg's latest opus is one of the weakest
films he has made, to date.
Set in a surprisingly realistic vision of what Washington, D.C. might
look like in 2054, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the top detective
on the police force's relatively new Pre-Crime Unit. Through three
pre-cog oracles whose minds hold the key to the future, the Pre-Crime
Force, headed by Director Burgess (Max Von Sydow), is able to stop
predestined murders before they occur. The alleged success of the
program has cut down on major crimes in D.C. by ninety percent.
When the latest murder suspect name comes up, Anderton is dismayed
to learn that it is his own. Without never having met the victim before,
Anderton is convinced that someone--possibly federal agent Ed Witwer
(Colin Farrell), who is after his job--is trying to ruthlessly set
him up. With the police suddenly after him, Anderton has no choice
but to go on the run. Breaking into the Pre-Crime building, he kidnaps
the most talented of the three pre-cogs, Agatha (Samantha Morton),
convinced that what she knows about his future is the key to clearing
his name and saving his life.
The general premise of "Minority Report" is a novel one, fascinating
in the way the world has developed enough in fifty years that the
police force has begun acting, more or less, as God to citizens. The
moral implications of such a debate--whether a person's future is
predestined or capable of change--are thought-provoking, to be sure,
but get lost in a screenplay (credited to Scott Frank and Jon Cohen)
more interested in action set-pieces, and a film that chooses style
over any form of hard-edged substance. While several of the action
scenes are astonishingly executed, including a death-defying jump
across cars hovering in the air, and a search for John by electronic
spiders sent to check the retinas of an apartment complex's tenants,
what surrounds them is a thoroughly unsatisfying emptiness posing
as a study of serious-minded issues.
Whatever deep-rooted involvement one might have grown to have in John
Anderton's dire predicament proves sterile in a sea of blank faces
posing as characters. Precious little is ever learned about John,
except that he blames himself for his son's kidnapping six years ago,
is separated from his wife (Kathryn Morris), and has a secret drug
problem, and even fewer reasons are given for why we should like or
care about him. Not being able to find the heart in John, or anyone
else in this story, is one of Spielberg's most fatal missteps. Tom
Cruise (2001's "Vanilla Sky") is not the greatest actor of his generation,
but you can at least rely on him to lend credence to his roles. As
fugitive John Anderton, Cruise is unusually stale and lifeless, closely
matching Spielberg's unsteady take on the character.
The other actors are mirages posing as people. Colin Farrell (2002's
"Hart's War"), as the shady Ed Witwer, barely makes any impression
until it is uncovered that his entire character has had no purpose
but to be a clumsy red herring. Max Von Sydow (1998's "What Dreams
May Come"), as Pre-Crime Department head Burgess, is forced to bide
his time appearing soft-spoken until his true colors are revealed.
As pre-cog Agatha, Samantha Morton (1999's "Sweet and Lowdown") is
the only performer to gain the viewer's sympathy, if only because
you cannot help but feel sorry for the precious life she has lost.
Morton is effective and focused, but she has little to do and even
less to say. Everyone else, including the Pre-Crime officers, family
members, and crime suspects, have non-existent dimensions.
Eternally grey-toned, Spielberg's stylistic choice to go for gloomy
grittiness adds atmosphere to the proceedings, but the stringent absence
of color or picture clarity from cinematographer Janusz Kaminski grows
tedious after a while. The same goes for the progressively muddled
plot developments, which have twisted and turned to such a degree
by the finale that total convolution takes over. Cold, unmoving, and
desperately in need of a beating heart and a soaring soul, "Minority
Report" is one of the year's most depressing disappointments.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman