minority report (2002)


director: steven spielberg

tom cruise, colin farrell, max von sydow, samantha morton

It has always been critically fashionable to dismiss Steven Spielberg’s films, but it has never been easy. As probably the most successful filmmaker working today, Spielberg’s work is impossible to ignore as a milestone of popular taste and a yardstick of film’s cutting edge, the best work done by the best people in the best possible circumstances. It’s just a bit harder to explain why his work never seems to transcend technical perfection and momentary popular taste, except when, as with A.I., his last film, it underperforms in the marketplace.

The premise for Minority Report, based on a Philip K. Dick short story, is fantastic: In the very near future, thanks to accidents in genetic experiments, it has become possible to predict crimes like murder before they happen, thanks to a trio of near-vegetative “pre-cogs” in the employ of the Washington D.C. police department, where the “Precrime” program has been developed and is on the verge of going national.

Tom Cruise plays John Anderton, Precrime’s top cop, whose committment to the program is fuelled by the loss of his son years earlier, and whose personal life has fallen to pieces while he became obsessed with his job. When his name suddenly comes up as the future perpetrator of a murder whose victim he’s never heard of, he does what every one of his suspect/convicts does and runs, sure of a set-up by an ambitious federal agent (Colin Farrell) who’s gunning for his job.

The world into which Cruise flees is simply spectacular, a near-future imagined compellingly, where constant retinal scans in every public place act less as surveillance than as marketing tools, tailoring advertising into personalized pitches. (There’s a hilarious sequence in a Gap store that hints at the satire Minority Report could have become in the hands of a different director.) Product placement - Nokia, Aquafina, Lexus - is done with an aggressive edge that might have made the rest of the film a bit less of a mere “experience”.

As Cruise flees his own, fantastically well-equipped officers, he takes us on the kind of joyride that Spielberg does better than anyone else in Hollywood, a thrilling and brutalizing headlong plunge through walls and broken glass, up into the air and down terrifying freefalls that’s turned theme park rides into pale imitations of movies instead of the other way ‘round. You can only hope that, one day, the technicians and stunt people, art directors and camerapeople who make films like Minority Report will get paid what they’re really worth, which would be something approaching what Mr. Cruise makes.

As Anderton, Cruise does what he does best - sweats, screams, runs, falls, gets beaten and fights back in the service of the story. Beyond the pyrotechnics, astounding as they are, Spielberg relies on the single theme that unifies his work - the family as refuge, the perfect state from which we fall and to which we must return. It’s hard to argue with it, except to hope that, perhaps one day, Spielberg will discover some other facet of humanity to anchor his dauntingly perfect, yet ultimately depressing spectacles.