Minority Report
directed by Stephen Spielberg
(20th Century Fox, 2001)

Welcome to Washington, D.C., where, thanks to the Department of Pre-Crime, there hasn't been a murder committed since 2048.

Or has there?

Pre-Crime Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is absolutely convinced his system for predicting homicides and intercepting the perpetrators at the crime scene is completely flawless -- until one day it shows him murdering a man he's never met. Suddenly, Anderton is on the run from his own system, forced to prove himself innocent of a crime which has yet to happen, and face to face with evidence that suggests someone has been getting away with murder.

Minority Report is many things: a cop flick, a sci-fi fantasy, a mystery, a morality play, a chase film, a thinking-fan's thriller. Like the very best cinema, it's image-driven, but never to the point where it loses touch with the moral and personal conflicts on which it's founded. In a way, it's a cyberspace Chinatown set in a much upgraded Metropolis.

Complicating Anderton's quest is the fact that he's a Philip K. Dick protagonist, which means he suffers from multiple personality conflicts, which he treats with an illegal drug (in this case, the aptly named "Clarity").

To make matters worse -- or better if you're a sci-fi fan -- Anderton lives in a world where police can track suspects almost anywhere they go by use of eye-scan technology. Nowhere is he safe: digital billboards even call out to him by name. And all the while, his operation is under investigation by the office of the U.S. Attorney General, which is considering taking Pre-Crime to the national level.

Still, all that pales before Anderton's real conflict: the loss six years earlier of his young son, which led to the breakup of his marriage.

And yet there's much more to Minority Report than plot.

There's concept: the murders-to-be are predicted by three "pre-cogs," psychics kept sedated in a high-tech temple pool and monitored 24 hours a day for visions, which can be thrown up on screens, recorded, replayed and analyzed ad infinitum by Pre-Crime cops.

In one of the film's most visually impressive moments, Anderton "conducts" an investigation by standing before the video screen and moving images about by pointing to them, looking much like the conductor of a symphony orchestra.

There's a powerful visual style, too: Minority Report is a shadowy black-and-white film shot in color -- or vice versa. And where there is light, it's often blinding.

There are moments, too, of unexpected insight -- "The power has always been with the priests, even if they had to invent the oracles," says the AG's man (Colin Farrell) following his tour of the pre-cogs' temple. Or humor: "You dig up the past, all you get is dirty," the keeper of the alleged future murderers (Tim Blake) tells Anderton.

With outstanding performances from Cruise, Max Von Sydow and Samantha Morton (as a pre-cog whose "minority report" might hold the key to clearing Anderton), director Steven Spielberg keeps this nonstop action, nonstop tension hurling forward at full throttle for nearly two hours. Unfortunately, his film is two hours and 26 minutes long.

If there were an Academy Award for Worst Ending to a Best Picture, Minority Report would be this year's hands-down favorite. For after blending telling images and melt-in-your-mouth dialogue with a haunting score for 120 minutes, Spielberg suddenly lapses into a heavy-handed voice-over resolution, followed by a Hollywood ending to end all endings.

Perhaps someday we'll have a Minority Report boxed set that offers alternative endings, or even lets us edit our own.

Spielberg could have done much better. And we couldn't do much worse.

- Rambles
written by Miles O'Dometer
published 10 October 2003

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