A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection
Minority Report (2002)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg is probably the most celebrated American film director working today, an undeniably talented and influential director who is responsible for some of the most iconic American films ever made, including Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993), Schindler's List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998). And yet, despite his popularity with audiences and critics alike, he often gets a bad rap, and his work is sometimes dismissed by cinephiles as being too populist or overly sentimental. His output over the past decade or so, ever since the release of what is arguably his last masterpiece, 2005's Munich, is certainly not as good as his earlier films, and the subpar Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) has somewhat tainted one of the most beloved film franchises in cinematic history. However, there is no denying his skill at combining dazzling spectacle, technical precision, and deeply empathetic and humanistic storytelling. This combination of elements is present in many of his films, but it is worth singling out one of his oft-forgotten masterworks, the 2002 sci-fi/action/mystery film Minority Report, as an example of Spielberg working at the height of his talents.
Witwer raises ethical concerns about the process, pointing out the paradox inherent in the PreCrime process: it's not the future anymore if you stop it, so they are arresting people who have not actually broken any laws. Anderton maintains his faith in the system, contending that the PreCogs only see what the killer will do, not what he/she intends to do. However, Anderton is bothered by images of a past murder that come from the PreCog Agatha (Samantha Morton), and begins to investigate the crime, learning that the file containing Agatha's recorded vision of the crime is missing. Returning to his office, Anderton is alerted to a new murder that will occur in three days' time, and is shocked to see that he is identified as the perpetrator. He does not recognize the name of the victim, Leo Crow, and becomes convinced that he is being set up, despite his earlier contentions about the tamperproof nature of the process. Anderton escapes from police headquarters and tracks down the eccentric Dr. Iris Hineman, whose research formed the basis for the PreCrime program, and learns that the PreCogs don't always agree in their visions. Agatha, the most "talented" of the three PreCogs, will sometimes deviate from the other two, but her "minority reports" of the future crime are ignored, in order to maintain the notion of the process's infallibility. Anderton is determined to find out who set him up, and plans to return to PreCrime headquarters to kidnap Agatha, who he believes holds the key to finding the minority report for his own predicted crime, and the truth behind the murder of Leo Crow.
There is a lot going on in Minority Report in terms of plot, characterization, and genre elements, but Spielberg, working from an excellent script by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, balances everything perfectly, and the result is a superb, intelligent blend of breathtaking action, heady science fiction spectacle, engaging mystery, and thought-provoking ethical analysis. The film contains numerous memorable set pieces, such as Anderton's initial escape through an automotive assembly plant, and the scene in which a team of robotic "spyders" make their way through a rundown apartment building, scanning the residents' eyeballs in order to locate Anderton, whose recent eye transplant at the hands of an unsavory former surgeon manages to fool the robots. The film is also gorgeous to look at, thanks to exemplary work by Spielberg's frequent collaborator, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, whose regular preference for muted color palettes, back- and side-lighting, wide-angle camera lenses, and a mobile camera have helped solidify the visual aesthetic that has come to be associated with Spielberg's films over the past two decades.
Spielberg has always excelled at eliciting great performances from his casts, and Minority Report is no exception. The supporting work is uniformly commendable, especially the scene-stealing turns by Lois Smith as Dr. Hineman, and Tim Blake Nelson as the prison guard in charge of all the inmates arrested by the PreCrime unit. Tom Cruise's work as the haunted, determined Anderton is a welcome reminder as to why he has remained one of the most popular movie stars on the planet. He imbues Anderton with the perfect mix of steadfast professionalism and vulnerability, and his usual on-screen charisma never wavers. It is of note that, even in a big-budget, plot-driven genre film like Minority Report, Spielberg's talent for building an emotional connection between the film and its audience is on display, due in no small part to Cruise's lead performance. It is this sentiment that is often the target of Spielberg's critics, but there is no denying that it is what makes films like A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) and War of the Worlds (2005) work so well.
The film's central paradox, the legality and ethicality of punishing people for crimes they have not yet committed, raises questions about crime prevention efforts that are relevant even in our current society. The film also feels somewhat prescient in its depiction of tracking and identification technologies and their uses for law enforcement and commercial purposes. In the film, eye scanners are used for identification purposes all over the city, and automated, talking advertisements are personalized for each individual. This brings to mind the targeted advertisements that we see while using search engines and social media sites, where products are suggested to us based upon things like our search histories and Facebook likes.
Even a decade and a half after its release, Minority Report remains one of Spielberg's most entertaining and intellectually engaging films, a seamless melding of genres that manages to tell a complex story with clarity, breeziness and style. The film is a reminder that, despite his comparatively lackluster filmography over the last ten years, Steven Spielberg remains one of the most talented directors working today, and hopefully one whose upcoming projects will be a return to form.