As soon as I sat down to write this review, I knew I was going to have to struggle
with the inevitable comparisons to that other major film based on a Philip K.
Dick work, Blade Runner. Not just because both were originally taken
from PKD's work (note that I'm not bringing Total Recall or Impostor
into this), but because both films share more than a few thematic similarities.
A recurring eye motif, for one thing, plays an important role in both flicks,
as do recurring questions over the morality of the main character's role as
a new type of policeman.
But by far the most important similarity is that both films are damn good,
succeeding as both action movies and as philosophical explorations of what it
is to be human, whether the world we're living in is the best possible world,
and notions of individual destiny.
With Minority Report, Steven Spielberg has definitely redeemed himself
after his last two sci-fi fiascoes. This isn't the Spielberg of A.I. and
The Lost World. It's the Spielberg of Schindler's List and Saving
Private Ryan. Minority Report is a taut drama, filled with brilliantly
realized characters, whiplash-inducing plot twists, and astounding visuals that
manage to never overshadow the story or characters. George Lucas could take
a few hints.
Science fiction the way it ought to be
The plot is deceptively simple. Minority Report is set in a future far
enough away to allow for things like sprawling automatic freeways, cars that
run up the sides of buildings, and jetpack-equipped cops, but still close enough
to the present to feature GAP stores and Muzak-suffused shopping malls. In this
world, the newest development in law enforcement, being tested in the nation's
capital, is Pre-Crime: Three mutant precognitives kept isolated in a tank can
see murders before they happen, and the police use these visions to arrest perpetrators
before they actually kill their victims. D.C.'s murder rate, as you might imagine,
has dropped to nil... but does that justify jailing people for crimes they never
committed? What happens if the precog's visions don't turn out to be true forecasts
of the future? Can you really avoid the future, if it's already happened?
These are the questions explored in Minority Report. Tom Cruise's John
Anderton in the chief of the Pre-Crime division, and when the precogs peg HIM
as a future murderer, he's convinced that he's been set up and that the system
has a fatal flaw. This leads to what at first gloss is a generic chase picture
(The Future Fugitive?), as an innocent man on the run is chased down
by a dogged federal agent determined to bring him to justice. But that's only
The most interesting thing about Minority Report is the way the rollercoaster
plot anticipates and then subverts your expectations. John Anderton may not
be the innocent man he believes himself to be... but then again, maybe he is.
The federal agent trying to run him down just wants the truth, and when that
leads him away from Anderton, he has no problem letting Cruise's character go.
And all the characters have to contend with a system that knows when and where
they're going to kill someone. Unlike in most action movies, sci-fi or otherwise,
simply hosing around a cool-looking automatic weapon isn't going to help EITHER
The clever shades-of-gray characterization, combined with the even more clever
ways the characters deal with the precog system and the "you never know
what's gonna happen next" story twists, make Minority Report the
most thoughtful and intelligent sci-fi movie to hit theaters in a long, long
time. The fact that it's as action-packed and nonstop as a James Cameron film
just makes it all the sweeter. True science fiction doesn't just deal with cool
futuristic concepts, but with the CONSEQUENCES of those concepts, and in this
regard Minority Report should serve as an example to the rest of Hollywood.
Yes, you CAN make a movie with lots of guns and cool computer readouts and a
hunky hero, and STILL make it a smart movie.
Glaring flaws—and why they just don't matter
Of course, no movie is without flaws, and Minority Report is no exception.
The plot twists definitely gave the movie an "edge of your seat" tension,
but many of them were cliches lifted straight from classic crime/detective fiction
(it's no coincidence that the precogs are given the names of famous crime/detective
novel authors). The production design, while definitely impressive, is hardly
realistic (I can't imagine that glove-thing used to analyze the precog's visions
via computer is really any more useful than a keyboard, and don't even get me
started on the cars).
More glaringly, there are a few acting missteps and some odd changes in tone
throughout the film. Most of the actors are uniformly excellent (especially
Tom Cruise and the girl who plays the precog Agatha), but some roles just seemed
forced, like the old woman who created the Pre-Crime system in the first place.
There's also a jarringly juvenile sense of humor running throughout the film;
I've never seen so many vomit gags in a "serious" sci-fi movie in
my life. One sequence, where a blinded Anderton inadvertently bites into a moldy
sandwich, and then tries to wash the taste from his mouth by inadvertently drinking
spoiled milk, is gorge-rising, supremely silly—and utterly unnecessary
in a movie where he's running for his life and considering issues of fate and
the reality of the world around him. And even without these narrative-breaking
intrusions, there are a few issues with the logic of necessary events—but
I won't spoil things by going into them here. Just keep your eye out and you'll
But those are just qubbles. Minority Report is easily the best science
fiction movie of the year. It has plenty of action sequences to leaven out the
very deep philosophical questions it raises and then attempts to answer. It
postulates a dark world of benevolent near-fascism that is all the more chilling
in today's security-conscious world. It's refreshing to see a sci-fi movie that
isn't a rock-stupid actioner, or a pretentious gabfest, but something that takes
the best of both and melds them into one of the smartest films since Twelve
Don't miss it.