Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, based on a short story
by Philip K. Dick
With Tom Cruise, Colin Farrelly Samantha Morton, Max von
Sydow, Lois Smith Peter Stormare and Tim Blake Nelson
Awkwardly structured and marred by an overly sentimental
ending, Spielberg's A.I. might have been a better film to think about than
to watch. (Of course, many people found the ending subtly disturbing,
a position I might have adopted if not for its treacly score.) MINORITY
REPORT reverses the pattern: it's somewhat interesting to ponder -
and particularly relevant to present events - but more entertaining
than thoughtful. The two don't necessarily need to be trade-offs,
but without Kubrick's posthumous guidance, Spielberg returns to his old tricks:
making a pretty good sci-fi/action movie. Not an achievement
worth sneering at, but it's slightly disappointing given the leaps A.I. took.
In the year 2054, the murder rate in Washington, D.C. has shrunk to
zero, thanks to a group of "Pre-Cogs," three people submerged in a bath
and doped up. Children born to drug-addicted mothers, they
have developed the skill to see into the future. The woman of the group,
Agatha (Morton), is the most powerful of the three. Meanwhile, a large
police bureaucracy, including John Anderton (Cruise), has developed
around them, arresting people who are about to commit murder. Under the
supervision of patriarch Lamar Burgess (von Sydow), the prediction system
is likely to go national, The murder of John's own son lends some credibility
to the concept, because his life would have been saved if Pre-Crime had
been instituted a little earlier. However, the system may not be 100% trustworthy.
Jonathan Rosenbaum has suggested that the seductiveness of sci-fi visions
of the future often stems from their brief glances of alternative
worlds. I haven't read Dick
's story MINORITY REPORT, but he was usually up to an entirely different
game. For all its flaws (including a terribly prosaic ending), TIME OUT
OF JOINT is one of my favorite Dick novels because it imagines a complete,
alternate world out of the stifling conformity of '50s California. Even
at their worst and least convincing, Dick's books created their own universe.
(For an imaginative, moving piece of sci-fi that imagines
abusive "robotic relatives" rather than the ersatz children of A.I.,
give rapper El-P's "Stepfather Factory" a listen.) MINORITY REPORT hints
at this universe without ever completely following through it.
Techno-fetishism, aided by fairly convincing, special effects.
reigns supreme in MINORITY REPORT. There's certainly something appealing
about it, like the Imac with the flat screen and clear keyboard on
which I'm typing this review. Yet the future of MINORITY REPORT raises as
many questions as it answers. What exactly does Clarity, John's drug
of choice, do? (Even if he's addicted, it seems about as dangerous as tea
or one can of beer, judging from his behavior.) Is it the "perfected" version
of a neuroin, a heroin-like drug whose effects on mothers produced the Pre-Cogs.
Or Perhaps inspired by Kathryn Bigelow's STRANGE DAYS, "cyberparlors"
offering vicarious experiences of XXX porn and G-rated glimpses of nature
exist, but we only get to see them once. (Amusingly, even fantasies
of murder will get one kicked out.) What will happen to the Pre-Cogs
as they age and die? Is there a search for a new children with these abilities,
or any desire to do so?. MINORITY REPORT's violence of brutal class
divisions is a reasonable projection of the urban future, especially
when Janusz Kaminski's cinematography leeches color out of most scenes,
but it also seems a bit prefab.
Cruise has the muscles, haircut and fashion sense of an action hero,
but he's essentially bland In MAGNOLIA, Paul Thomas
Anderson finally managed to break down Cruise's shell, while Kubrick made
his emptiness function as part of a world full of strange temptations. Of
all films, THE BOURNE IDENTITY, a spy thriller for a generation more
enamored of Prozac and Vicodin than James Bond's martinis, beats MINORITY
REPORT at exploi†ing anomie. Matt Damon's blankness becomes expressive there,
as he becomes a man who doesn't know his past but still has to kick ass. John
thinks he knows his future and tries to prevent it while kicking ass: a
more conventional, less compelling proposition.
As social criticism, MINORITY REPORT often hits home. The idea of personalized
advertising - "travel ads" that cry out John's name while offering him
a vacation - doesn't seem too far from Internet cookies which keep a record
of all your personal on-line transactions. (Go to amazon.com, and
you'll often get a hilarious list of "personal suggestions" based on the
books you've previously bought.) While Spielberg himself supports Ashcroft
and Bush's willingness to "revise" the law in search of potential terrorists,
Frank and Cohen's screenplay is far more critical of such endeavors.
In one memorable tracking shot, surveillance "spiders" crawl across an apartment
building, momentarily - but only momentarily - interrupting sex and arguments.
Action meets substance: it's a great match. (Most of the time, Kaminski's
camera paces back and forth, as if waiting for violence to happen.) That
said, they do play devil's advocate by acknowledging their crime-fighting
However, cliches and images borrowed from BLADE RUNNER, Dick
and sci-fi writers like William Gibson and Bruce Sterlin eventually dominate.
A sleazy underground doctor, anyone? (Granted, the doctor's creepy
operation does set up a literally eye-opening gag in which John scrambles
for his eyes above a sewer grate.) A world divided into posh consumerism
and drug-addled slums (called the Sprawl)? An ending lifted from SOLARIS,
just without any emotional power? I'm not particularly bothered by
the philosophical and narrative paradoxes of the last 20 minutes, but they
detract from the real appeal MINORITY REPORT holds: exploring a full-fledged
alternate world with plenty of resemblance to our own. If you're generous,
it's got the guts to drop the audience in 2054 with few explanations; if
not, it's a lazy patchwork but an exciting roller coaster ride with a conscience.
You can probably figure out which side I'm on.