If anyone - well, almost anyone - but Steven Spielberg had directed Minority Report there wouldn't be enough words to praise it; but Spielberg's track record– his films rarely fail to make my 10 Best list– demands he be held to a higher standard, and he's not up to the competition of his own best work.
The filmmaker has not emerged unscathed from his immersion in Kubrickiana in preparation for A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Some scenes of Minority Report reek with Kubrick's influence. From A Clockwork Orange come eye clamps and the name Burgess, perhaps in homage, for a major character; and from Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's last and least film, comes Tom Cruise.
Early in his career Cruise made a point of working with some of the best actors around (e.g., Dustin Hoffman, Paul Newman, Robert Duvall) and learning from them. I'm not sure if Scientologists believe in karma, but it's apparently payback time as Cruise risks losing some of his fan base to the younger, arguably prettier, and potentially more talented Colin Farrell.
Like all films based on stories by the late Philip K. Dick, even the bad ones (Impostor), Minority Report has a strong, original sci-fi premise. Unlike some of the others (and many movies that are Dick-less) it doesn't dump all the ideas into the first few minutes, followed by a two-hour chase. Unfortunately, the screenplay, by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, has holes you could fly one of those cool, snail-shaped choppers through.
It's 2054 in Washington D.C. For the past six years the city has been murder-free because the police have a Department of Precrime. Three "precogs," a woman and two brothers, are kept floating in a tank where they visualize murders before they happen. Their pre-visions are captured in a way that they can be shown to others, and the police are able to arrive in time to prevent the murder and apprehend the person who would have committed it.
Question No. 1: If the precogs have the ability to see the future, how do they see murders that aren't going to happen? Why don't they see the Precrime police preventing the murders instead?
Question No. 2: The precogs are human. What right does the government have to keep them as virtual slaves?
If you've seen or heard anything at all about Minority Report you know Cruise plays John Anderton, the head of Precrime, and that the precogs get a vision of a murder he will commit in 36 hours, which sends him on the run.
Question No. 3: Since he's a police officer, how does anyone know he's not shooting someone in the line of duty in the pre-vision?
Question No. 4: Anderton keeps saying he's innocent because he doesn't know the man he's supposed to kill. The precogs are never wrong, so what makes him think he won't meet this person during the next 36 hours and kill him at the end of that time?
But he's our hero, and he's Tom Cruise, for crying out loud! So we believe him and go on the run with him and hope he can prove his innocence. It's a critical time because there's a national referendum next week to take the Precrime concept national.
Question No. 5: How does anyone know there are enough precogs to go around, or can the range of the original three be tweaked to cover a broader area?)
The FBI has sent Agent Danny Witwer (Farrell) around to look for flaws in Precrime, and perhaps to create some where none exist?
Anderton's boss, Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow) is supportive of him and the program; but Anderton meets Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith in a marvelous performance), whose research developed the precogs and led to Precrime, and finds she's disenchanted. She also tells him of the "minority report" that could provide him with a loophole.
Question No. 6: When Anderton learns where he's supposed to commit his murder, why doesn't he reduce the likelihood of the crime (as well as his apprehension) by avoiding the spot?
The requisite Spielbergian father-and-son angle comes from an incident six months before Precrime started, when Anderton's young son was kidnapped. He cracked up and started doing drugs ("a cop on the whiff") and his wife Lara (Kathryn Morris, who pronounces it "Laura") divorced him; but they're still friends.
In Spielberg's pre-vision of the future, advertising is even more ubiquitous than today. It's also holographic and personalized, triggered by "eyescans" that recognize us as we pass. There are singing cereal boxes that play commercials as we pour and the "spiders" of search engines are brought to physical reality.
Question No. 7: When Anderton is on top of the Most Wanted list, why isn't his security clearance revoked? His eyes can still get him in anywhere.
Everything's pretty and high-tech and clean, but police procedures would seem to work against that. They have a "sick-stick" that can induce vomiting in the person they're trying to apprehend and in two scenes the people they're protecting are in danger of being killed by broken glass from the way they make their entrance.
It's no news that Spielberg knows how to make a great-looking picture, although in a few shots people look unintentionally distorted as if a great weight were making them shorter and wider. The futuristic design, more often for better than for worse, is different from what 20 years of Blade Runner knockoffs have accustomed us to seeing. John Williams' score is no less effective for being one of his least obtrusive.
Spielberg's pacing is sensational. Action fans couldn't ask for more, yet there are ideas throughout so intelligent viewers won't feel insulted. Too many of the ideas are wrongheaded, unfortunately, and there aren't enough potential suspects for what is essentially a whodunit; so this well crafted thrill ride won't leave you completely satisfied.
Judging from some early reviews, this may be a minority report on Minority Report, but I'll stand by it unless someone can answer my questions.