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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

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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

What's the difference between a left-winger and a right- winger? My dictionary says:

Conservative: adj. & n. from Latin conservatives. A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged.

Liberal: adj. & n. from Latin liberalis. A liberal is a conservative who's been arrested.

You can't get more down-to-earth than that, and while the words are not mentioned even once in Steven Spielberg's spellbinding piece of thought-provoking eye-candy, "Minority Report" is implicitly about American society's shifting to and fro, back and forth, depending on how dangerous crime and its big brother terrorism have become. In times of peace such as when Communism died and Westerners seemed to act as though on Ecstasy, we were all liberals. When Islamic extremists launched a successful attack against the United States on 9/11, we moved to the right. "Minority Report" deals with an experiment taking place in Washington D.C. that appears so successful in stamping out murder (though apparently not other infractions of the law) that the public embrace it without apparent dissent. As the movie, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (whose thirty-six novels are nowhere to be found in the entire Brooklyn Public Library system) and adapted for the big screen by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, progresses, we are given pause. Could there have been some mistakes, some cases in which innocent people have been sent away? Might the entire crime prevention program have been set up by ambitious politicians coveting key slots in a newly-created government agency and willing to cover up or even commit crimes of their own to maintain themselves in power?

Since "Minority Report" is under the direction of Steven Spielberg, we can expect and we get visuals unmatched by anyone else in the industry. Nor does the intricate story disappoint: a tale so complex that like "Mulholland Drive" can require a second viewing to grasp its subtleties. What comes across by the time this 143-minute dazzler wraps up is that the incomparable Spielberg has moved forward in yet another direction: gone is the fairy-tale tone of "E.T." and the warm and fuzzy shades of "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." Instead, Spielberg has given us true grit, with his cinematographer Janus Kaminski's using a bleached-out process to evoke a dangerous D.C. and by extension, a parlous planet. Despite the off-putting sentimental conclusion, "Minority Report" possesses all the features of noir film making, a congeries of sinister shadows, eye-scanning high-tech spiders, and much, much more.

The story, blessed with a production design by Alex McDowell, takes us to Washington in the year 2054, a city which retains the great, timeless monuments overlooking an upper-middle- class district of contemporary suburban residences and inner- city squalor. Inside a government building we observe nothing like the bureaucracy familiar to anyone trying to renew or process of driver's license, but rather a palace of technological marvels, of transparent computer screens with an array of enigmatic formulas, all of which serve to deter crimes before they happen. This is the headquarters of Pre-Crime, housing three Pre-Cogs two males and a female whose unusual births have given them the ability to watch the commission of murders before they occur and transfer their images onto a computer screen. The screen is watched by the chief, John Anderton (Tom Cruise) a competing FBI man, Dan Witwer (Colin Farrell), all under the supervision of the head of the organization, Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow).

Because John's little boy was kidnaped six years back, John has become your classic, crime-hating, lock-'em-up-and-throw- away-the-key conservative and has bought into the new technology. However when the Pre-Cogs observe that John himself is about to commit the crime of murder in a couple of days by shooting a man who is currently to him a stranger, John's political views veer subtly to the left. He runs.

Much of the film involves John Anderton's attempt to figure out how in blazes he could commit such a crime when he had never heard of the alleged victim. When he is not pondering the issue, he's running and tells a fellow worker "Everybody's got to run." This gives us in the audience a chance to watch director Spielberg's adeptness with car chases, one of which takes us through some of the grittier sections of town pursued in one instance by Agent Wither in a car that can move sideways as well as in the conventional manner. Nor can John find a hiding place because the enforcers let loose a barrage of technologically controlled spiders which can crawl into every nook and cranny of every seedy hotel room and force inhabitants to show their eyes for a scan.

Tom Cruise's strong performance is matched by side roles, particularly some creepy shtick by a deranged doctor (Peter Stormare) who transplants new eyes into the pursued man followed by bandages which the spiders at one point insist on pulling away; by Lois Smith as Dr. Iris Hineman, the creator of the program who may now have regrets; and an especially eerie job from Samantha Morton as Agatha, the leading Pre-Cog who has been whisked away from the pool housing her and her two fellow Pre-Cogs looking pretty dreadful shorn of hair and eyebrows and without the proper clothes that a Gap store will supply for her. To make certain that we're all suitable frightened, John Williams has furnished a score that opens with a section of Shubert's Eighth Symphony and moves on to subtly contemporaneous sounds.

In an interview, Steven Spielberg reported, "Right now, people are willing to give away a lot of their freedoms in order to feel safe. They're willing to give the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. far- reaching powers to root out individuals who are a danger to our way of living....How much freedom are you willing to give up? That is what this movie is about."

Since the best science fiction is not only riveting entertainment but also a way of addressing contemporary issues, "Minority Report" shows its awareness of current political trends, seeming to come out of today's headlines at a time that American liberties are affected by the terrorism of Islamic extremists. At present most Americans seem perfectly willing to allow suspected terrorists to be hauled away by the authorities and detained not as regular suspects but as enemies of the state, subject to be held for a month or more without charges. Yet in a recent situation, our Attorney-General, John Ashcroft, made an assessment of one such suspect that was so grim, so melodramatically hyped, that even President Bush was angry.

How about it? Do you see Pre-Crime or at least the version being utilized in our more prosaic year of 2002 as a valid way to treat suspects? Does it bother you that your neighbors, maybe even you, can be taken away and help without bail and without a hearing for months, all in the name of safety? Are you concerned that your privacy is being whittled away in the name of security?

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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