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Minority Report

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4

*Also starring: Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow, Steve Harris, Peter Stormare, Kathryn Morris, Ramona Badescu, Joel Gretsch

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
3 stars out of 4

"Minority Report" is the kind of movie that sticks with you. The futuristic noir thriller pulses with fascinating ideas, memorable images and thrilling action sequences. Director Steven Spielberg has managed to give a series of fantastic concepts an impressive sense of verisimilitude. He delivers what this summer has screamed for an A-list movie that both entertains and resonates.

While designing his vision of life in 2054, Spielberg gathered experts in technology, environment, crime fighting, medicine, health, social services, transportation, computers and other fields, asking them for a reasonable projection of what society will be like a half century from now. The results are dazzling. Automated cars whisk travelers to their destinations vertically as well as horizontally, using a magnetic-levitation traffic system. The computers in retail stores scan the retinas of customers and make audio-visual shopping suggestions based on their purchase histories. People verbally interact with their home appliances and view home movies on holographic 3D projectors.

But this is no "Jetsons" future. Personal privacy has virtually disappeared as new government programs protect citizens, while dissolving the last vestiges of civil liberties along the way. Chief among these is the Pre-Crime program that has kept Washington D.C. murder-free for the past six years. Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the leader of the Pre-Crime division of the Justice Department, which uses visions culled from a trio of Pre-Cogs psychics kept in a fluid-filled, womb-like chamber to arrest murderers before they are able to commit the physical act.

Although the program is controversial, its success has resulted in a pending national referendum that will determine if the system will be employed across the country. In anticipation of increased scrutiny, the Justice Department sends in expert Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) to audit the agency. The aggressive former seminarian pokes into everything, making Anderton more than a little nervous, especially when his boss, Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow), informs him that the higher-ups are poised to take over the program.

And then it happens. Anderton receives images from the Pre-Cogs showing him murdering a stranger 36 hours from that moment. Convinced that he is being framed, the lawman lights out to prove his innocence, while his own Pre-Crime officers, led by Witwer, try to apprehend him.

But avoiding detection in 2054, where citizens are tracked almost everywhere by tiny, retina-scanning cameras embedded in walls and appliances, and by small tracking devices that look like shiny steel spiders, is nigh impossible. In desperation, Anderton heads for the slightly less monitored slums, using drastic (and gross) measures to remain free. Eventually, he ends up meeting with Iris Hineman, one of the creators of the system, who informs him of a possible way to vindicate himself. But her revelations include facts that would shake the very foundation of the Pre-Crime program.

The Philip K. Dick ("Blade Runner," "Total Recall") story, first published in a 1956 issue of "Fantastic Universe," seems especially relevant in the post-Sept. 11 world, as the American government repeatedly comes up with reasons to "modify" civil liberties in order to combat terrorism. We fret about the erosion of basic freedoms while grudgingly agreeing that the steps are necessary safety measures, something we must put up with, at least for a little while. But how much should be given up, and when, if ever, should it end?

The Pre-Cogs remind me of all the innocents sacrificed "for the greater good." The three seers, a woman and a set of twin brothers, are treated not like human beings, but as cogs in a machine. They are bathed in a fluid intended as both a biological nutrient and a medium that helps to channel future visions into their heads, filtered so they see only murder. One of the most powerful images in the film comes late in the story, as a Pre-Cog named Agatha (Samantha Morton), separated from her peers, shivers in the arms of an outsider and asks, "Is this now?"

In the person of John Anderton, we see what can happen when a man puts his faith totally in a system. One horrible day years earlier, Anderton lost his young son, and his subsequent grief consumed him, finally driving away his wife Lara (Kathryn Morris). He found refuge in his work, secure in knowing that he was sparing others from similar pain, but the frame-up indicates that something is wrong with Pre-Crime.

If you're concerned that I've revealed too much about "Minority Report," relax. This is a film with a rock solid story and a wealth of peripheral ideas, too many, I suspect, to take in with a single screening (A viewing tip: When it appears obvious that the film is about to end, settle back into your seat, because the ride is not over).

Steven Spielberg conducts "Minority Report" with as much style and skill as Anderton shows when directing the transparent panels of the Pre-Crime computer. Above all, Spielberg's focus is on telling a good noir story. He treats the futuristic gadgetry in a matter of fact fashion, following the characters and not the toys. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has worked with the director on every production since "Schindler's List," helps establish and maintain the dark, gritty motif with bluish lighting that puts the emphasis on shadows, using a bleach bypass process in developing the film to desaturate the colors. The result is a future with a great lived-in look.

Composer John Williams, teaming with Spielberg for the 19th time, contributes a subdued score appropriate for the suspense genre. In the press notes, Spielberg states, "I think all of John's previous work has been in 'color,' but this score is more experimental. You feel it more than you hear it." I'll buy that, as the only thing I remember about the music is that it never overwhelmed the proceedings.

The film also boasts some terrific acting, with Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell leading the way. Cruise gives a powerhouse performance, neatly capturing the varying aspects of John Anderton's personality without ever falling into bathos. Meanwhile, Colin Farrell gets the opportunity to show the world why the nine of us that saw "Tigerland" raved about him. Farrell commands the screen as easily as Cruise, but is skilled (and smart) enough to share the space. All this guy needs is the right starring role and he will shoot straight past the moon.

Samantha Morton, who managed to win hearts in "Sweet and Lowdown" without ever saying a word, is equally impressive in the nearly silent role of Agatha, breathing life into the trapped soul right before our eyes. Max von Sydow is effective as "the father of Pre-Crime," although his character is the most obvious one in the film, and Lois Smith takes her brief appearance as system co-creator Iris Hineman and leaves an indelible impression with a intelligent and tart performance.

The rest of the cast, starting with Steve Harris (briefly free from the godawful TV series, "The Practice") as Jad, Anderton's Pre-Crime partner, turn in colorful supporting performances. In fact, one of the only problems with the film is a short period where Anderton's travels from one colorful supporting player to another becomes overly repetitive.

Despite that brief saggy stretch and a late-in-the-game monologue from Agatha that left me scratching my head, "Minority Report" is a dark treasure. In 2001, both Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise released edgy films ("A.I. Artificial Intelligence" and "Vanilla Sky," respectively) that left some fans groaning. I suspect that the men will hear very few complaints this year.

Copyright 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott

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