In the dark dystopic future of America, there is a policeman who fervently believes in the system. He hunts down those who would run from the system – until one day the system comes for him. Now he understands the system is flawed, and though at first he tries to escape it, he soon realizes he must bring it crashing down.
But enough about Logan’s Run. Although the plot of Steven Spielberg’s new Minority Report bears more than a passing resemblance to that slice of 70’s sci-fi cheese, the source material is actually a 1954 short story by Philip K. Dick. Dick, you may recall, is the late science fiction writer whose cult following and conspiracy nut persona have lent a cachet of trippy hipness to movies based on his works. (Though as David Edelstein pointed out recently in the New York Times, official adaptations like Blade Runner and Total Recall have been less successful at capturing the author’s paranoid vibe than some recent films clearly influenced by his writings, such as The Matrix and The Truman Show.)
Set in Washington D.C. in the year 2054, Minority Report posits a society that seems in many ways a logical extension of our own. The notion of privacy is a distant memory; our every movement can be tracked by retinal scanners, which are as ubiquitous as the holographic billboards that utilize them to personalize their advertising pitches. A Gap billboard, scanning a passing pedestrian, burbles "Greetings, Mr. Yakomoto! How are those tank tops working out for you?" Indeed, one of the most frightening things about this movie is the participation of real-life corporations like the Gap and Lexus, cheerfully lending their logos to these Orwellian ads and probably paying good money for the honor.
There’s some good news, however: the murder rate in the city has fallen to zero in recent years, due to the efforts of the Department of Precrime, an elite unit of the police force. Utilizing a trio of "precogs" – psychic mutants wired into the department’s computer system – the officers of Precrime are able to arrest murderers before they have even committed their crimes. Not everyone is crazy about Precrime’s methods, however, including a federal agent (Colin Farrell) conducting an investigation of the unit on behalf of the Attorney General (clearly not John Ashcroft, who is probably busy tracking down some pre-cogs at this very moment).
The head of the Precrime unit is Paul Anderton (Tom Cruise), who has no moral qualms about the process until the precogs reveal his own upcoming act of murder. Believing he’s been framed by the feds, Anderton escapes and goes on the run. Along the way he learns of the existence of "minority reports," which occur when one of the precogs foresees a different outcome than the other two.Anderton sets out to find the minority report he believes will prove his innocence.
Spielberg’s last picture was the fascinating but deeply flawed A.I., in which he attempted to meld his sensibilities with those of the late Stanley Kubrick, who had nurtured the project in his latter years. He’s still in Kubrickian mode here, and Minority Report proves to be a much better match of style and story than its predecessor. In its examination of the dueling societal concerns of law enforcement and free will, the film is reminiscent of Kubrick’s similarly themed A Clockwork Orange, and Spielberg has gone so far as to include several visual nods to that 1971 classic. Like Kubrick, Spielberg has gone all out to create a self-contained and fully imagined world. The vision of the future on display here is nearly seamless, though there are a few leaps of technology that seem unlikely to occur within the next half-century.
For most of Minority Report‘s running time Spielberg sustains an edgy, unsettling mood, enhanced by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s chilly metallic palette (but occasionally disrupted by the obligatory John Williams score). The script by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen is riddled with inconsistencies of internal logic, but that comes with the territory; almost any science fiction story dealing with traveling or seeing into the future is bound to present some unsolvable parodoxes. And though the media hype would have us believe the teaming of Spielberg and Cruise is a mythic event akin to the moon landing, Cruise is once again simply Cruise, no more and no less. Any number of actors could have played his role as well or better, but his cold, calculating charisma suits the character just fine. So far, so good.
As is too often the case lately, however, Spielberg just doesn’t know when to quit. He can’t seem to bring himself to view the issues Minority Report raises with the pragmatic eye of a Stanley Kubrick, so he ties the story in knots trying to bring it to a feel-good resolution. One false ending after another clutters the final stretch of the film, and it soon becomes clear that thorny ethical questions are being bypassed in favor of crowd-pleasing heroics. The result is a summer entertainment adults can see without feeling embarrassed, but it could have been more. It’s a solid triple that could have been a home run.