Minority Report

minorityIn the satirically detailed world of Minority Report, which unfolds in 2054, you can’t walk into a Gap store without a hologram greeting you by name and complimenting you on the last item you bought there — perhaps you’d care for a black tank-top? Privacy is dead, and people visit a virtual-reality club to explore their wildest fantasies; one man wants to kill his boss, but knows that if he plans to do it for real, Washington’s Pre-Crime unit will catch him before he carries it out. Experience seems to be dead, too. The population is safe from certain forms of physical aggression, but they’ve all been pre-emptively neutered, like Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

I refer to that Stanley Kubrick classic for a reason: Minority Report, despite some eleventh-hour lapses and rhetorical flab, is the movie A.I. should have been. Steven Spielberg, adapting Kubrick’s long-cherished project last year, missed the mark so completely that the result offered the best of neither director. But Minority Report is the real thing, more Kubrick than anything Spielberg has done, and more Spielberg than anything Spielberg has done in too many years. I had given up hope, fearing Spielberg to be lost in his warm bubble bath of homilies: His recent movies haven’t been entertaining or even educational — they’ve been instructional. Well, Spielberg seems to have snapped out of it. He is working once again with his trademark effortless sense of purpose and precision. If his previous recent films have been tepid baths, this one is a cold shower — shocking and revivifying.

Tom Cruise is John Anderton, ace “detective” for the Pre-Crime unit. Spielberg’s and Cruise’s first collaboration has not produced the expected smiling, cocky, full-blooded hero, but rather an angry, hollow, flawed man, who takes drugs to kill his torment over his kidnapped little boy. Anderton is thus driven to stop crimes before they happen, though his logic is faulty, since a boy can be kidnapped and tortured for years without being “seen” by Pre-Crime’s three precognitives, who can only see future murders. Cruise plays Anderton as a man who throws all his faith into the “perfect” Pre-Crime structure because if it is shown to be faulty, his work — his reason for not eating his gun — is rendered meaningless.

Faulty it is, though. The “Pre-Cogs” — cleverly named Agatha, Arthur and Dashiell — “see” Anderton killing someone within 36 hours, a man he’s never met. The full weight of the Pre-Crime force — led by Max von Sydow as its figurehead and Colin Farrell as a sort of internal-affairs investigator looking for flaws in the system — comes down on Anderton, who flees into the city. It’s there that Minority Report most closely resembles a previous bitter dystopian drama inspired, like this one, by a Philip K. Dick story: Blade Runner, in which Harrison Ford bumped up against a menagerie of colorful characters. Here, Anderton meets a crackpot who traffics in black-market eyes (Peter Stormare), a virtual-reality pimp (Jason Antoon), a wise old woman who accidentally started the whole Pre-Crime project (Lois Smith), all of whom can help him, but only so much.

Anderton goes on the run with Agatha (Samantha Morton in an alternately touching and alarming performance), the most powerful of the Pre-Cogs, and Spielberg stages their adventures — a bit of business with police spiders, a beautifully timed chase sequence wherein Agatha’s psychic abilities come in handy — with all his old genius for momentum and humor arising from personality and situation; I cannot help loving a film in which the high-tech Pre-Crime officers, with all the gimmickry at their fingertips, are foiled by some children’s balloons.

The look of the film, by way of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, is ominously blue and bleached and untouchable, but Spielberg packs the frame with reminders of humanity trudging along despite the bleakness of its surroundings (I particularly enjoyed the glimpse of a man lost in a virtual-reality daydream of being lavishly praised by his peers). Toward the end, Samantha Morton sells the hell out of a windy speech about how Anderton’s home is full of psychic residue of love for his son, but it’s still a windy speech; and Spielberg reneges on the uncompromising film noir denouement the material well-nigh demands. Still, this is the most exciting piece of work Spielberg has delivered in ages — clean, supple, and emotionally engaging without being emotionally overbearing.

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