'Minority Report': THR's 2002 Review

Minority Report (2002) - Photofest-H 2016
20th Century Fox/Photofest
A thought-provoking inquiry into just how far we as a society want to go to make our environment safe.

On June 21, 2002, Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise unveiled the thriller Minority Report in theaters, where it became a summer hit and, later, an enduring sci-fi classic. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below: 

All good science fiction is really a speculation about social and political trends. Thus, Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, a rousing film-noir suspenser set in a world of labor-saving devices and McLuhan-esque technology, is a thought-provoking inquiry into just how far we as a society want to go to make our environment safe.

Spielberg poses the question in one of his most compelling and entertaining films ever. Following A.I. Artificial Intelligence, he continues to push into new fictional terrain that is grittier, creepier and edgier than the warm-and-fuzzy science fiction of his early career. And he is willing to leave an audience unsettled. Even with something of a happy ending, Minority Report is the most troubling kind of speculative fiction. There is much to absorb here, almost too much for a single viewing, which probably means the kind of repeat business on which box-office bonanzas are built.

For star Tom Cruise, too, the point of reference is his last film, Vanilla Sky, where he also played a man caught in a technological nightmare in which his very identity and destiny get thrown into confusion. While going over the top in that film, here he delivers one of his most controlled and suggestive performances. Pain and hysteria stay bottled up within his character, a man who completely buys into a crime-prevention system then finds himself outside that system, battling the very thing that gave him self-worth.

A complex, intricate screenplay by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen derives from a story by sci-fi master Philip K. Dick. The film takes place in Washington a half-century from now. Cruise's chief John Anderton heads an experimental Pre-Crime unit, which takes advantage of a freak scientific accident that produced three psychic human beings, who can see murders before they occur.

In Pre-Crime headquarters, these "Pre-Cogs," bathed in biological fluids and drugged into a semi-comatose state, channel horrific visions of the future into a computer. John brings these images up on a large glass screen, where he can separate and analyze the pictures to glean clues about the "victims," the "murderers" and sites of these crimes, thereby preventing them from ever happening. In six years, the Pre-Cogs have never been wrong. Or have they?

(This elite unit operates only in the D.C. area, but the government plans to take the system nationwide. The major plot hole is that nothing explains why the psychic abilities of the Pre-Cogs extends only as far as D.C. or how the government intends to expand those abilities across the nation.)

John is a man on a mission. He lost a small son six years before and, haunted by that crime, buries himself in crime prevention. Then suddenly, the Pre-Cogs insist he will murder a stranger within 36 hours, forcing him to run from his own unit. A rival FBI agent (Colin Farrell) is also hot on his trail, a pursuit made all the easier by the fact that his Magnetic-Levitation car can be controlled by others, and scanners throughout the city track anyone's whereabouts by scanning the eyes.

As John runs, he must figure out not only why he would kill a total stranger but — if he is indeed being set up — what this has to do with his tragic past, his boss (Max von Sydow), estranged wife (Kathryn Morris) and a research scientist (Lois Smith) who developed the Pre-Cogs.

The film has several amazing set pieces few filmmakers could pull off. There is a terrific chase between Cruise and his own elite police force through mean inner-city streets and into a robotics car factory. In a later sequence, a disguised Cruise must break into Pre-Crime headquarters and spirit away a Pre-Cog, Agatha (Samantha Morton), who holds the key to his salvation. There is also a very creepy sequence in which a doctor (Peter Stormare), operating — literally — outside the law, performs a dual eye transplant on Cruise in the grimiest of tenements.

While Cruise anchors the movie, a brave performance by Morton and rock-solid supporting work give the movie extra ballast. Shorn of hair and eyebrows, Morton is a fragile figure, waif-like yet willfully determined to have a hand in her own liberation despite a time-continuum confusion. Farrell is suitably oily as an antagonist who is not quite a villain but might have resisted the cliches of gum chewing and a three-day beard. For von Sydow, this is an overly familiar performance, but Smith and Stormare offer off-center personalities that enliven their individual scenes.

The details of this future world filter out as part of the film's narrative drive rather than as show-off effects. One of John Williams' subtlest scores in years, somewhat reminiscent of the work Bernard Herrmann did for Hitchcock, brings a certain amount of tension without his usual lush orchestrations. Longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski's de-saturated color pulls all the disparate worlds — the scruffy streets, cold and gleaming interiors, magnetic highways and the womb-like Pre-Cog Chamber — into a dark, unified whole.

As more aspects of science and crime-fighting in this future society emerge, the film probes the moral underpinnnings. The Orwellian nature of the new technology is obvious, but Spielberg sees this less as the intrusion of Big Brother than Big Business. The eye scans, useful to police, are vital to commercial interests to track customers. Technology is not necessarily the enemy — homes spring to life in helpful, efficient ways — but privacy vanishes. — Kirk Honeycutt, originally published on June 17, 2002.

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