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Minority Report
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2002

Format: Movie
By:   Steven Spielberg (director)
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   June 21, 2002
Review Date:   June 30, 2002
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

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 beginning.

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 side.

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 spot them.

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 Monkeys.

Don't miss it.

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