by Twentieth Century Fox & Dreamworks SKG

June 2002

Minority Report

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Based on the short story "The Minority Report," by Philip K. Dick, Steven Spielberg's film Minority Report follows the Precrime Division of a futuristic Washington, D.C. police force in the final weeks of a trial period before possibly expanding nationally. The unit relies on three precognitive humans, which seems like a pretty flimsy basis for a crime prevention program. Whenever the three precogs see the same murder, the Precrime unit is sent out to stop the crime from happening.

Precrime, led by John Anderton (Tom Cruise) under the command of Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow), must interpret the sometimes spotty visions to figure out exactly where a crime is going to take place. The Precrime police firmly believe in what they are doing and their commitment to proving it before a national referendum takes place is admirable. When a detective, Danny Witmer (Colin Farrell) appears ready to sidetrack their quest, the react with both hostility but also accept him as he tries to do his job.

Although there is a desire to compare the film to Ridley Scott's Bladerunner (based on Dickís Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), the film is not so bleak as Bladerunner, offering a more balanced view of the future between decay and growth. In the end, Minority Report seems to look more towards Terry Gilliam's Brazil for its cinematic antecedents. In all three films, the protagonist finds himself on the run from a government he was a part of and supported.

Anderton's story is given additional emotional impact by the knowledge that he has lost his son, Sean (portrayed in flashbacks by Dominic Scott Kay) and in addition to feeling guilty about the loss, Anderton is convinced that had Precrime been functional, his son would not have been killed. His belief in the system, therefore, is as much a matter of faith as based on the systemís own merits.

The story does have some flaws besides the one noted above. In at least one case shown in the film, the murder doesnít happen exactly as predicted, and is witnessed as such, yet it is treated by all, both officially and unofficially, as if it had. This drawback, however, permits the film to have a tension which would not have been possible if there was no chance of getting around what the precogs see, as so many of the characters insist.

One of the more interesting sequences in the film is when Anderton is on the run with one of the precogs, Agatha (Samantha Morton), who offers him, and those surrounding him, advice based on her precognitive skills. The offhand manner in which Morton makes her predictions enhances not only the scene, but adds verisimilitude to the rest of the filmís portrayal of her abilities. In addition to Morton, a scene stealing performance is given by Lois Smith in the role of Iris Hineman, the woman who devised Precrime and now lives as a recluse.

Many of the background details work quite well to create the feeling of a near future society: a constant barrage of billboards which tailor themselves to passersby by reading their retinal scans, automated cars which seem as if they could have grown out of todayís cars, and the use of modern technology, such as cell phones, with minor enhancements.

One of the most interesting features of the film is the idea of predestination, which is what Precrime is based on, against free will, which eventually confronts Anderton. Although Spielberg touches on the essential contradiction implied between the two world views, he doesnít offer a full exploration of the theme which could have strengthened the movie further beyond a typical action film.

The tension in Minority Report is palpable from the earliest scenes of a murder seen by the precogs until Anderton eventually figures out who is setting him up and why. All of the actors deliver strong performances, with Max von Sydow seemingly channeling Robert Mitchum. Although the focus is on Cruise's Anderton, most of the actors in the film are given their chance to shine and manage to focus the scenes on themselves without detracting from the film.

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