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"Minority Report" Review


Title: Minority Report

Starring: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Peter Stormare, Max Von Sydow

Written by: Jon Cohen, Scott Frank

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Rating: PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content.

Review by Stephen Silver

Minority Report represents the first-ever collaboration between Hollywoods greatest living director and one of its greatest stars, coming at a time when both principals are coming off of challenging, idiosyncratic sci-fi pictures that most audiences merely shook their heads at in incomprehension. That Minority Report is itself a challenging, idiosyncratic sci-fi picture is not the problem; what is the problem is that the movie is poorly conceived, poorly filmed, and even more poorly executed.

While Spielbergs 2001 film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, was at once the most misunderstood and underrated picture of the year, Cruises Vanilla Sky (directed by the previously infallible Cameron Crowe) amounted to little more than meaningless nonsense. Both principals clearly having learned from their respective collaborations with Stanley Kubrick, theyve got the ambition down in the undertaking of Minority Report, but uncharacteristically, neither is able to carry it out to the best of his abilities.

Based on a Philip K. Dick short story, Minority Report is the story of John Anderton (Cruise), a detective in mid-21st-century Washington, DC, who is part of the Pre-Crime Division, which uses the psychic ability of three precogs to prevent future murders. It seems like a perfect system until Anderton is himself framed for a murder he has yet to commit and must defend himself. In these days of liberal hand-wringing over losses of civil liberties in the post-9/11 world, this seems an especially prescient look into the moral ambiguities of such issues (As J.R. Taylor pointed out in New York Press, nearly every alternative-paper film critic in America has invoked John Ashcroft in their review of Minority Report.)

The problem is, as a series of unconvincing plot twists reveal, the movie isnt really about morality and civil liberties at all: at its heart, its really about political machinations and intrigue. After a standout first act in which the premise is set up, the movie devolves into what amounts to an extended chase scene that lasts for almost an hour and leaves all of the first acts moral and ethical questions behind in favor of cheap thrills. The third act, again, is less a moral quandary than an exercise in gamesmanship between hero and villain, and the movie becomes more an indictment of greed and opportunism than of police-state crime policy.

That political intrigue supersedes what the movie should really be about isnt the pitfall Minority Report shares with Attack of the Clones: just like his old friend George Lucas, Spielberg isnt able to convincingly establish his special effects as anything other than effects, or his characters as real, live people. The action scenes, with one or two exceptions, are quite ho-hum, and the brown-dominated visual style is ugly and unpleasant. And while the script uses futuristic product placement throughout, Josie & the Pussycats-style, for commentary purposes, its still product placement and still more distracting than meaningful ironic use of such was old when Wayne and Garth were doing it ten years ago.

The most shocking thing about Minority Reports failure is that Spielberg uncharacteristically directs a highly conventional, by-the-numbers genre film when he has made a career of doing the exact opposite. A.I. was unconventional to the point that most people didnt understand it; Minority Report doesnt take the same risks and thus suffers for it.

Spielberg makes all kinds of mistakes that a director of his caliber simply should not be making. He lifts liberally from lesser films by lesser directors (Twelve Monkeys and Strange Days are only the most egregious examples), and even uses the ridiculous, too-common cliché of the villain being exposed as a fraud on a big screen in front of hundreds of people. If something has happened in a Naked Gun movie, it shouldnt show up in a Spielberg film a decade later. And a climactic showdown on the roof of a building with a major landmark in the background isnt the only echo of Vanilla Sky.

There are logical lapses all over the script (Cruise keeps going places that if he were smart, he shouldnt be going near at all), and surprisingly enough for Spielberg, theres no mention whatsoever of race: in a movie called Minority Report, set around the Washington, D.C., police department, how can there be no race-related statements from the director of Amistad?

There are some standout sequences, however, most notably a fantastic scene in which Cruise visits the woman (Lois Smith) who invented pre-cog technology, and Mike Binder (from HBOs Mind of the Married Man) shows up in the last role in the world in which youd expect him. And theres an excellent running joke involving a characters severed eyes. Cruise performs well, although with each passing film it gets more and more difficult to tell his different characters apart.

Theres a large contingent of film buffs, I often observe, who hate Steven Spielberg and all that he stands for. They call him manipulative, heavy-handed, and stuck in childhood. Ive never bought into this reasoning, for numerous reasons (the man has directed some of the greatest movies of the last quarter century, and these supposed weaknesses are actually some of his greatest strengths).

Whats ironic is that Minority Reports flaws are independent of these criticisms: its not heavy-handed or emotionally manipulative, its just hackery. Uncharacteristic hackery for one of the great directors of modern times, but hackery nonetheless.

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