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Non-Review Review: Minority Report

I don’t love Minority Report. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a well-made film – perfectly entertaining and cleverly directed by a director who is one of the best living today – but it just doesn’t feel consistent for me. The whole doesn’t necessarily add up to the sum of its parts, as it were.

They should probably screen their officers better...

Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick (who has seems to have written stories that have provided the inspiration for everything save Sex and the City 2), the film offers a possible future where cops use pre-cognitive individuals (“pre-cogs”) to identify murders before they happen, so they can save a life and apprehend the would-be killer. There hasn’t been a murder in years thanks to the hard work and oversight of John Anderton, the officer in charge who is driven by the guilt of losing his son at a pool years before.

However effective the system might be in practice, the ethical questions abound: how can you imprison somebody for something they didn’t do and now never will? how can a person be responsible for an action that never occurred? if the future is definite (it can be predicted), how can you hold anyone accountable for anything (as free will can’t coexist with destiny)? As the scheme prepares to expand nationwide, people start asking questions, the cracks begin to show and – worst of all – Anderton himself is named as a potential murderer.

The film handles its weighty subject matter quite well, and wonderfully efficiently. Anderton effectively demonstrates the principle behind the scheme by allowing the investigator from the Department of Justice catch a falling ball – how could he have known it would hit the ground if he hadn’t have caught it? It isn’t exactly a philosophical treatise on the nature of free will – indeed, there are several gaps which work their way into the story if you think too hard about it – this is Spielberg directing a summer action movie, after all. There’s only so much room for discussion and debate.

It’s the “summer movie” element of the film which really lets it down though. Spielberg went through something of a “Kubrick-esque” phase in the early naughies, embracing darker and more disturbing visions than his audience had come to expect (though the director himself would somewhat ironically observe the lighter elements of A.I. were actually the work of his friend Stanley Kubrick, and he’d only written the darker stuff). Indeed, over the course of this film, there’s the abduction of the lead character’s son, which turns him into a drug addict, what can only be described as “futuristic crack babes”, and the notion that the lead character will become a killer – all of this sold through grotesque physical imagery (including a fixation on eyes, belying the film’s fascination with perspective) and an almost clinical facade.

Anderton takes a hands-on approach...

However, in the midst of all this, there’s the usual humour you’d expect from Spielberg. Indeed, in a street brawl with a bunch of jetpack-wearing cops, there’s hints of Raiders of the Lost Ark on the soundtrack. There’s grossout humour about snots and other bodily functions, and the cops use “sick sticks” to enforce law and order. Those sticks do exactly what it says on the tin, causing the victim to projectile vomit themselves into submission – just like they teach at bootcamp. Who needs lasers or compression guns?

The action sequences are directed with flair – note the famous chase along a car assembly-line, for example (in one of the movie’s most blatent examples of cashing in – though not the only one) – but there’s a note of physical comedy and grossout humour which feels at odds with the heart of the film. Witness Anderton hijacking a cop’s jetpack, and flying him through a block of apartments, which somewhat diminishes the emotional impact of the fact his own men are hunting him. The movie seems to lose this rathe bizarre black humour as it heads towards the finale, and is the better for it. It’s almost as though the first half of the movie is seeking a ridiculous Total Recall vibe – in that example it worked, but imagine if Arnie’s son had been abducted and he was a drug addict. That would be a very different film.

Spielberg is, quite simply, a fantastic director – and he makes the film something fascinating to watch. Indeed, the movie’s rather weak plotting and structure (what the hell was the deal with that doctor who was angry with John, but did his surgery, threw in a freebie and made him a sandwich? or why the hell does Anderton still have his old access codes – you’d imagine somebody would have set an alarm to go off if he came back to the office? or even the moment when an official decides to stop chasing John because the pre-cogs have seen him at the crime scene – the official argues he has to get there, but if you can stop him murdering the guy, you can surely stop him going to the crime scene?) can be overlooked simply on the basis of the film’s world-building and setpieces.

Let's pool our resources...

The movie is brimming with style. I actually couldn’t remember half the little setpieces which make up the world – man-eating vines, for example, or the way the small screens can be used as discs for larger screens. Being entirely honest, Spielberg builds a world that deserves comparison to Blade Runner, with more than a slight debt owed to Ridley Scott’s classic. Everything is constructed beautifully – from the three statues of the pre-cogs outside the police headquarters to the “spiders” that scan individuals remotely to the iconic “interactive advertising”, this is a world brimming with exciting possibilities and with a fair amount of depth. It lacks the social complexity of the best of such constructions (I don’t buy, socially, that this world could exist – I have an easier time accepting that robots are second-class citizens, for example, than the idea that any court or constitutional inquiry would allow an individual to be held without trial for an action they didn’t commit).

Still, the visuals are incredibly impressive, from the 3D rendering of 2D home movies – which cleverly present the flat image of Sean leaving a gap on the canvas behind him – to the way that Spielberg manipulates his image to dull all but the brightest colours. I love the simple neon glow of the “halo” containment device applied to inmates. It’s just a great visual.

Indeed, you can see the director’s favourite themes playing through here, particularly his skepticism of paternal figures. Ignoring the obvious observation that John was watching Sean when he disappeared, there’s the portrayals of “the mother and father of pre-crime” or the manner in which the “most talented” pre-cog – the female – maternally looks over the younger, less advanced males. In fact, it’s the mothers who ultimately seem most effective in this distorted fairly tale – they are the ones who act in the best interests of their loved ones.

Spielberg’s cast is great. I’ve always considered Cruise underrated and – while this isn’t his best work – it gives him a lot more room for characterisation than most of his big budget work. Take a moment to spot all the familiar faces in the supporting cast – in particular the two Irish actors (Samantha Morten and Colin Farrell) do great work, as does Max Von Sydow. It’s a great cast.

However, even the cast can’t stop the film from feeling… well, disappointing. It feels very empty and shallow. Indeed, even the final image of the film doesn’t hold up to a lot of scrutiny. I won’t spoil it here, but I might in the comments. This hallowness also shows through with a strange sense of humour based on bodily functions – which would have been funnier had I been twelve.

Taht said, it’s an impressive film, and a visually stunning one. I’m just not entirely convinced. Probably best to consider this whole review the minority report.

7 Responses

  1. I’m in agreement with you in regards to the plausibility and consequentiality of predicting the future – indeed, the crimes that people would have committed but didn’t thanks to Pre-Crime. But I think it’s one of those where a director such as Kubrick would have investigated the moral and ethical questions arising from such power. But Spielberg is more concerned with manichean sensibilities and the age-old story of good-guy-wronged-putting-things-right. That’s what I think Minority Report does well. It gives us a great premise and doesn;t delve too deeply into the whys and wherefores. indeed, it’s pace and visceral intensity in a way hides some of the more questionable plot eventualities. The whole idea behind Minoity Report is a great concept and Spielberg runs with it nicely. He’s more in his comfort zone here than in A.I. where he seemingly had no clue how to end the film.

  2. I just finished up writing a review for this for later in the day. Ha, I love it. I really do.

  3. It’s horrifying to me that one could be arrested for a crime never committed. Spielberg’s best effort in my eyes (with the exception of Jaws and Schindler’s List).

  4. Yeah, I just read your post, Andrew. Funny that you and Darren are writing about the same thing on the same day. I’m in the camp that love this movie, ok maybe not LOVE but like it a lot. Cruise is great in this, not very Tom-Cruise-y if you know what I mean. But I do love the two actors you mention (didn’t know Morton was Irish), she and Farrell were terrific. The visuals is impressive even by today’s standard.

  5. id watch this over the dour Blade Runner any day.

  6. For me, Minority Report is one of those movies that gets better every time you’ve watched it. I wasn’t so sure on my first viewing when it was on the big screen, but since then I’ve watched it several times and it’s growing on me. One of Tom Cruise’s better ones I think.

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