Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:20 - Released 6/21/02

As a director, Steven Spielberg owns one of the greatest track records of his generation. I think the secret of Spielberg's success is that, unlike many other currently prominent directors, he is more able to balance the high-tech, effects-driven aspects of his movies with the much more important human factor. Although many of his most popular films have been effects extravaganzas like E.T., Close Encounters, and Jurassic Park, some of his best films are the ones where effects take a back seat to character and relationship work; i.e., Schindler's List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan.

Although Spielberg's latest effort, Minority Report, is admittedly one of his more emotionally sterile productions, it is not unlike last year's A.I. in that it features a fascinating, futuristic concept (based on the short story by Philip K. Dick, first published in Fantastic Universe magazine in 1956), with just enough of the human touch to make it emotionally accessible to the audience. While we may marvel at the ideas of crimes being predicted by psychic clairvoyants, or cars that glide effortlessly and automatically down the sides of skyscrapers and merge onto the highway with nary an accident, or advertisements that speak to you by name after having read your retinal scan, the issue more resonant to us is the man who has lost his little boy, and it is this issue that drives the film. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have reliable actors like Tom Cruise and Max von Sydow, not to mention a huge and uniformly capable supporting cast, and writers like Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, who adapted Dick's 50-year-old story for a current audience, or the tense and powerful music of Spielberg's longtime friend and composer, John Williams, to help with the overall effect.

The story is set in Washington, D.C., in the year 2054. The city's law enforcement authorities have begun an experimental procedure for which they hope to seek acceptance (and funding) on a national level, called the PreCrime agency. Devised by retired law enforcement officer and elder statesman Lamar Burgess (von Sydow), the system uses the talents of three people with exceptional psychic abilities who are kept in a constant state of dream sleep by a combination of mind-numbing drugs, partial immersion in a huge sensory-deprivation tank, and electronic "halos" attached to their heads (which basically give them the Jack Nicholson treatment from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest). Using the fragmented images seen by these "precognitives," which are projected onto a screen and interpreted by agents like Detective John Anderton (Cruise), the agency is able to predict and prevent every murder that is about to happen in the city, deftly stepping in and arresting the suspect before the crime has even been committed and fitting him with his own halo so he can enjoy the paralytic state that will keep him quiet while he rots in suspended-animation prison. Boasting a spotless record over the past several years, the PreCrime agency has made Washington the safest city in the U.S., with no murders reported since the program began. When Detective Ed Witwer (Colin Farrell) is sent in by the attorney general to investigate the system for possible flaws (like a misread prediction resulting in a wrongful imprisonment), Anderton, who is wrestling with a drug addiction following the disappearance of his young son and subsequent dissolution of his marriage, feels his hackles rise. "The system is perfect;" he states, "the fact that we prevent the crime doesn't change the fact that it was going to happen." Unfortunately, the next image that comes in features Anderton himself as the killer, murdering a man he's never seen or heard of, supposedly within the next 36 hours. Suddenly he finds himself on the run from the very system he has championed, trying to find out whether he is the victim of a "false positive" or if he's really going to kill this man—and if so, why.

Although this film is nearly 2½ hours long (also like A.I.), it is almost constantly riveting, either from the standpoint of its futuristic vision or its tense plot line. There are definitely some holes in the story, and the twists and turns taken in the final half hour are at times predictable, but as always, Spielberg delivers a product which is much more than the sum of its parts, so well-rendered, technically and emotionally, that it somehow excuses its own transgressions. In addition to the principals, fine acting performances are given by Samantha Morton as the "precog" forced, if only briefly, to function in the unforgiving present, distinguished actress Lois Smith as the eccentric matriarch of the PreCrime system, and Peter Stormare as a skilled but unconventional eye doctor. Minority Report adds yet another jewel to director Spielberg's crown, and another entry to the short list of truly thoughtful and intelligent films in the futuristic science fiction genre. *****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail