"Minority Report" unites two Hollywood superpowers, über-director Steven Spielberg ("Saving Private Ryan") and A-list actor Tom Cruise ("Vanilla Sky"), in a surprisingly thought-provoking sci-fi actioner that will likely leave this year's other big releases in the dust, "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" and "Spider-Man" included. In its two-and-a-half hour running time, Spielberg takes the audience on an unforgettable and suspenseful ride into the future where the police can murders before they happen-- a journey that draws some interesting parallels to current events.
The story takes place in Washington D.C. in the year 2054, where there hasn't been a murder in the six years since the Department of Pre-Crime was founded. Using three gifted psychics, called pre-cogs, who live out their days confined in a small environmentally controlled pool, police officers are able to see murders up to three days before they actually happen, giving them a chance to stop the murderer before the crime is committed. The mechanics of this intriguing concept are demonstrated in the film's stunning opening sequence, where Detective John Anderton (Cruise), Pre-Crime's best and brightest, stops the murder of a woman and her lover by a jealous husband.
With the success of the Pre-Crime in the Washington D.C. area, the program is about to be deployed nationally. Unfortunately, because of Pre-Crime's expansion, a power struggle ensues between federal hotshot Ed Witwer (Colin Farrell of "Hart's War") and the founder of Pre-Crime, Director Lamar Burgess (Max Von Sydow of "The Exorcist"), leaving Anderton caught in the middle. To make matters worse, Anderton's next case involves a shooting death that is scheduled to occur in less than 24 hours-- and he is the suspect. However, given that he does not know who the alleged would-be victim is, Anderton believes that he is being set up by Witwer as part of an elaborate scheme to take over Pre-Crime. And so he sets out on the run, trying to find evidence that will clear his name. Unfortunately, as each hour passes, he is drawn ever closer to what could be his immutable destiny as a murderer.
In many respects, "Minority Report" is another 'neo-noir' in the vein of "Blade Runner". Similar to film noir classic "D.O.A.", where a man has 24 hours to track down the person who has fatally poisoned him, Anderton is the law-abiding citizen whose life is turned upside down when he is accused of a crime he hasn't even committed yet. Speaking of "Blade Runner", "Minority Report" is based on a short story by late science fiction author Philip K. Dick, whose other short stories have been adapted into "Blade Runner", "Total Recall", and "Impostor". Similar to how these other short stories and their filmed adaptations explored metaphysical concepts such as memory and identity, "Minority Report" tackles the subject of fate in the paradox that Anderton finds himself in-- if it wasn't for the pre-cog vision, Anderton would not have been placed on a path that would lead him to the would-be murder victim. Similarly, the role of free will is pondered when Anderton confronts the man he is destined to kill-- does knowing about what will happen necessarily mean that it can be prevented?
However, even more fascinating is what the film says about today's world. At the beginning of the film, Anderton is convinced that the Pre-Crime system works. And though the people they arrest technically have not committed a crime (since they were stopped), Anderton trusts the 'visions' of the pre-cogs as an accurate representation of what was bound to happen, and is a firm believer in the infallibility of the system. After all, one only needs to look at the countless number of would-be victims who wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for the tireless efforts of Pre-Crime. But does having a murder-free society justify taking away the liberties of the pre-cogs, who essentially spend every hour of the day being restrained and haunted by chilling visions of murders yet to come? Interesting parallels can be made to the current 'War on Terrorism' and the arrests and imprisonment without trial of hundreds of individuals for suspected ties to terrorism. Furthermore, Anderton sees with 'new eyes' that the apparent infallibility of the Pre-Crime system can in fact be manipulated and is subject to the age-old abuses of power and authority, requiring active vigilance to prevent the sort of complacency that contributed to the failure of the U.S. intelligence community prior the September 11th terrorist attacks, or allowed the accounting irregularities that led to the collapse of energy trader Enron. Another interesting point made by the film is how in the world of 2054, addressing social inequity and poverty, which are root causes of crime, seems to still be a low priority by the government.
In addition to the thought-provoking subject matter, "Minority Report" also does a remarkable job in bringing the world of 2054 to life. With the help of renowned futurists, Spielberg creates a spectacle-filled vision of the future (similar to what he did in last year's "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence") where driver-less cars dock directly with their owner's apartments, drugs are delivered through inhalers, guns fire non-lethal sound waves, cereal boxes sport multimedia animation, and personalized marketing is taken to the nth degree (such as the virtual sales clerk encountered by Anderton while shopping at a Gap store). Similar to "Blade Runner", "Minority Report" is filled with the future versions of today's brands, such as Lexus, Nokia, and Guiness (while Anderton is on the lam, an electronic billboard declares "John Anderton, you look like you could use a Guinness!")-- hopefully, the 'curse' that plagued the companies that appeared in "Blade Runner" won't happen here (many of the firms that appeared in the 1982 film, such as Pan Am, Atari, and Bell, are no longer around). Coupled with the film's engaging action sequences, particularly Anderton's battle against his jetpack-wearing former colleagues or his escape from a car assembly factory, "Minority Report" provides all the eye candy you would expect from a summer movie.
Among the cast, Cruise is a good choice as the lead, sporting the appropriate athleticism and conviction as the film's protagonist. Rising star Farrell also does a memorable turn as Anderton's nemesis (who is not quite as he appears), while Von Sydow does his usual best as the respected head of Pre-Crime. In addition to these three leads, British actress Samantha Morton plays Agatha, a pre-cog with the key to proving Anderton's innocence, Neal McDonough ("Star Trek: First Contact") and Steve Harris ("The Skulls") appear as Anderton's fellow officers, while Tim Blake Nelson ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") is the warden where Pre-Crime prisoners are 'contained'.
"Minority Report" is the type of summer blockbuster that Hollywood should be making more of, one that is brimming with equal portions of intelligence and spectacle. Spielberg's latest cinematic concoction certainly makes up for his missteps in last year's "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence", as this is a film that will be remembered as one of the best, if not the best, of 2002.