Director(s): Steven Spielberg
Writer(s): Scott Frank and Jon Cohen
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Jun 21, 2002 - Wide
Minority Report combines the best of different worlds: Classic film noir with futuristic settings. CG effects with real locations and sets. Fast action with fleshed out characters.
Based on a 1956 short story by science fiction author Philip K. Dick, Minority Report follows John Anderton, the chief of Washington, D.C.‘s Pre-Crime Unit. Using evidence presented by three psychic “Pre-Cogs”, the unit arrests and convicts people before they commit murder. The unit’s success has politicians ready for a national rollout and the feds send an agent to learn about the unit and search for any flaws. Anderton and his boss smell a conspiracy when Anderton is marked as a murderer and hunted by his own men. In a world where a consumer’s every move is tracked by interactive advertising, Anderton must try to slip into the shadows and prove that he’s innocent of a crime he’s yet to commit.
Set in 2054, the world created by Steven Spielberg and writers Scott Frank and Jon Cohen is far enough away to contain items like jet packs and magnetic freeways yet close enough to make us feel connected, and fearful, of the road ahead.
Unlike his buddy, George Lucas, whose Attack of the Clones often featured CG actors on CG sets, Spielberg and his team have worked hard to combine CG effects with real sets and locations. The result is grittier and the interaction with real locations gives the actors something to work with, giving strength to their performances.
Minority Report doesn’t make you check your brain at the box office as you move from one action scene to the next. MIT Media Lab’s John Underkoffler, one of the film’s advisors, points out that “good science fiction is actually social science fiction” and Minority Report explores the ramifications of a future where people not only face detention for crimes they have yet to commit, but also face a society where billboards and stores bombard their privacy with personally tailored advertising.
Tom Cruise’s John Anderton is a complex character. A father torn by his son’s disappearance, Anderton has thrown himself heavily into the Pre-Crime Unit, believing its existence could have prevented his son’s tragedy. Estranged from his wife, Anderton is a dichotomy: a dedicated, hard-working law enforcement officer who is also an addict, using synthetic drugs to numb his emotional pain. Despite being surrounded by futuristic gadgets and concepts, Anderton is not a cartoon action figure like the hero in Mission Impossible.
Colin Farrel, one of those young actors tagged (or saddled) with the “next big thing” title, plays Danny Witwer, the Justice Department official sent to study the Pre-Crime Unit before a referendum to take the unit national. The Irish actor, who has been busy with roles in Tigerland, American Outlaws and Hart’s War, holds his own opposite Cruise and carries off the casual arrogance of the standard federal agent figure who drops the “Read the letter, I’m in charge now” routine on the local cops.
Samantha Morton, who was phenomenal in Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, provides the audience with another seemingly effortless performance as Agatha, the strongest of the three Pre-Cogs. Her character helps fuel another one of the film’s social dilemmas, as we ponder the rights of the individual over society’s need to tap into their gifts.
Max von Sydow, veteran of more than 100 films, adds another layered performance to his career as the head of the Pre-Crime Unit. The supporting cast of Kathryn Morris, Tim Blake Nelson and Peter Stormare all help to round out the world that Anderton inhabits, with Nelson and Stormare’s roles presenting characters reminiscent of some of the colorful people that inhabited another Philip K. Dick story, Blade Runner. Lois Smith, another screen veteran like von Sydow, has a small but pivotal role as Iris Hineman, the researcher whose work with the Pre-Cogs led to the Pre-Crime Unit. Her screen time is limited, but she makes great use of it.
Steven Spielberg has a film full of fun gadgets to play with: magnetic cars, rocket packs, enormous video screens and perfectly executed robot-spiders. He could have made this a big action film with futuristic car chases and big explosions. Instead he shoots it like a 1940’s detective drama. He takes a role that could have been played by Bogart and concentrates on the characters and events that unfold as Anderton tries to get to the bottom of a crime he seems destined to commit. The whiz bang special effects are the servants and not the masters in this film. It’s a lesson many present filmmakers should learn from.