Minority Report (2002) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Cruise, Max Von Sydow, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Peter Stormare, Tim Blake Nelson
By Alan Bacchus
Oh what promise... I remember the excitement this combination of story, star, genre and director conjured up when first announced. Steven Spielberg doing a pure sci-fi action picture with then respectable, pre-couch jumping Tom Cruise, from a story by high concept master Philip K. Dick. Unfortunately Spielberg’s inability to edit himself results in a needlessly engorged and extended movie which goes on half an hour too long.
For two thirds it’s a marvellously executed genre-film. John Anderton (Tom Cruise) as a near future cop who leads a team of pre-cognition crime solvers who use a trio of soothsaying human vegetables to predict murders before they happen. Using images retained from these fractured memories and a pretty darn cool interactive editing system John becomes a 21st century sleuth. But when precogs predict the next murder to be committed by Anderton himself, it’s the hunter being hunted. The chase is on, with a number of thrilling set pieces pushing the film forward toward its overly twisty glorified whodunit mystery.
‘Minority Report’ succeeds a technical exercise and an excuse for Spielberg to craft a number of creative and visually stunning set pieces. None better than the opening scene when we see John execute his skills at cyber sleuthing, running, chase, tackling. Spielberg’s uses some familiar Hitchcockian cinema techniques to ratchet up the suspense of whether John can make it time to save a cheating housewife and her lover from getting knifed to death by her vengeful husband.
When John finds himself on the run, Spielberg engineers at least two more stunning action sequences. One, a very long running and car chase which has John fighting off his old colleagues zipping around in jet packs and ending in a fist fight in a robotically controlled automotive plant. The other features John getting an eye transplant at the hands of a seedy underground doctor played memorably by Peter Stormare and then being tracked by a group of robots spider sentries.
Unfortunately everything else in between these scenes creatively dull and tedious. Virtually all of the dialogue is information and exposition about who is who and what the fancy gadgets do what. Colin Farrell’s presence as a devout internal affairs wonk who is morally opposed to the procedure of imprisoning people before they commit crimes engages in some interesting existential discourse, but under the blockhead writing and Spielberg’s hurried direction, these themes are conveyed to us with zero subtlety.
The actors talk as wooden as their dialogue. Max Von Sydow, assuming the slippery and thus evil European bigwig role is just awful. Tim Blake Nelson who plays the quirky archivist is robotic and just plain creepy for no good reason. Lois Smith as the elderly woman who created the precognition system has only exposition to spew out and has much trouble masking this dubious narrative purpose.
If the movie ended squarely on that one hour and 45min mark when John discovers he is indeed the murderer he didn’t think he could be, Spielberg would have had a perfect ending. Killing Leo Crow not only puts the film and its lead on a precarious moral tightrope, it hits home the dark sci-fi cynicism which makes Dick’s material so thought-provoking. But Spielberg lets everyone off the hook and neutralizing this moment with another twist which sends the film in a completely different direction. The revenge of John’s son’s death represents the highest emotional gravitas for the lead character, and so when it’s revealed this as a red herring for a considerably lesser significant betrayal by John’s boss for political reasons, it’s a buzzkill of monumental proportions.
The final 30 mins involves so much catch-up, backtracking, and exposition it’s a strain for everybody involved to keep up. And by the end, a good film is wasted by Spielberg’s inability to say cut, print, call it a day.
‘Minority Report’ is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment.