Minority Report (2002)

D: Steven Spielberg
S: Tom Cruise, Max Von Sydow

After the disastrous AI: Artificial Intelligence, it seemed inevitable that director Steven Spielberg would return to surer ground for his next outing. Minority Report, inspired by the short story by Philip K. Dick is primarily an action thriller which concentrates on building suspense through a series of chases and confrontations. It is surprisingly low on big action set pieces (they are more or less clumped together in one section), but the film on the whole has the feel of a more urgently paced variant on familiar generic and authorial themes.

In the nearish future, an experimental branch of law enforcement known as "precrime" has operated successfully in the District of Columbia for six years. Using psychically sensitive 'precogs' (genetically unique humans kept in a drug-enduced state of precognitive dream-sleep), police officers have refined the ability to predict crimes before they happen and apprehend the suspects before the crime is committed. The success of precrime is something of a personal triumph for the programme's father/initiator Max Von Sydow (The Seventh Seal), who stands on the brink of national expansion and an enduring legacy for the world. It is also a boon for chief of operations Tom Cruise (Eyes Wide Shut), separated from his spouse following the kidnapping of his child, addicted to drugs and work in a desperate attempt to shut out his sense of guilt and isolation. The problems begin when FBI agent Colin Farrell investigates the operations of precrime in search of flaws in the system and when Cruise finds himself accused of a murder he is supposed to commit in thirty six hours. Cruise goes on the run and is pursued, all the time trying to figure out who has set him up and how and why.

Dick's characteristic concerns with identity, memory, narcotics, and social control are present in the script by Scott Frank and John Cohen, as are Spielberg's trademark themes of fatherhood, family re-integration and the necessary interventions of (often unexplained) anterior forces for a shift in perception. The mixture is not altogether bad, and coupled with a sense of remove which though it does not look or feel like Kubrick certainly seems to have been inherited from Spielberg's brief contact with his mindset in the preparation of AI: Artificial Intelligence, makes for an intriguing concoction of ingredients.

Visually, Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski have taken a step beyond AI into a hazy and grey-toned paranoid dystopia where the surface gloss barely masks the underlying mental and spatial unease. The most visceral and visually arresting scene in the film is actually the most lo-tech, when Cruise is forced to undergo an eyeball transplant at the hands of rancid back-alley surgeon Peter Stormare (Armageddon), but the film on the whole aspires to and achieves a definite sense of a future space which is less fantastical than AI and yet more deliberately unreal. Spielberg seems comfortable with the world of the film in a way which he was not with AI, and the result is a generally more sure-footed piece of work.

The potential riches of the scenario and of the underlying image system are not always plumbed though. Despite a strong opening quarter and an adrenaline-fuelled second, the film begins to lose its grip thematically as it starts to turn the screws on the narrative. A lingering metaphorical concern with vision and blindness peters out inexplicably as Cruise, warned that blindness will set in if he is exposed to light before a certain amount of time has elapsed after his operation, seems to suffer no ill-effects from precisely that effect. His character regains composure and direction a little too easily for comfort after this scene, and a potentially interesting sub-plot about his attempt to gain access to precog Samantha Morton becomes yet another chase rather than an intensification and complication of emotion. This leads on to the dreamily executed by strangely uninvolving suspense scene which builds up to the moment where he is supposed to commit the murder. The film's final quarter is much too conventional, finally unmasking the now all too obvious conspirators with some visually interesting flashbacks but unsurprising effects on plot and character.

The overall balance is fair enough though, and Minority Report is eventually both entertaining and relatively thoughtful. Dick's writings always seem to produce something of interest (Blade Runner, Screamers), even if the relationship between the source and the adaptation is problematic (Total Recall). Minority Report is likely to hold its own in its particular company, and by virtue of Cruise's presence, Spielberg's name, and a generally efficient delivery all round likely to attain financial success as well. Though not as challenging as it might have been, it is thankfully not the hodgepodge that AI was. For some people this may make the film less interesting (a grand failure is sometimes more entertaining than a cold-hearted success), but Spielberg has always been at his best when he is most in control, and he seems to have gotten back on top here in a way which makes the film coherent and worthwhile even if is not brilliant.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2002.