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'Minority Report'

Vision of 2054: Spielberg, Cruise see it all clearly with fascinating film

Friday, June 21, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The recent "Star Wars" films suggest George Lucas has turned into a grumpy old man, working by rote.

His friend and colleague Steven Spielberg, on the other hand, has matured as a filmmaker yet retains his youthful enthusiasm, his prodigious skill as a visual storyteller and his ability to articulate humanity's potential for good or ill.


RATING: PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content

STARRING: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max Von Sydow

DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg



His latest movie, "Minority Report," represents his grittiest fantasy film -- an entertaining yet challenging blend of action, social commentary, some uneasy comic moments and a fascinating, plausible extrapolation of the way we might be living 50 years hence. Spielberg's sentimental streak barely shows, if at all.

Instead, the movie bombards you with ideas and themes and visual stimuli right from the start. You may not get it all the first time, unlike too many movies in which you get nothing at all.

It doesn't hold you in a trance the way "A.I." did, nor does it prove to be as philosophically dense or as daring -- that film was, after all, originally developed by Stanley Kubrick.

But "Minority Report" is more successful in the end, perhaps because it doesn't try so hard. Some of Kubrick's irony and cold-eyed realism seems to have seeped into Spielberg's filmmaking -- is it a coincidence that classical music plays over visions of potential murders? -- but Spielberg's optimism remains.

"Minority Report" is based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the science-fiction writer who also inspired "Blade Runner" and "Total Recall." Spielberg and screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen take the basic premise and main character, but little else -- Dick wrote the story nearly 50 years ago. We are living nearly as far ahead of his time as the movie is in advance of ours.

John Anderton (Tom Cruise) heads the Pre-Crime unit in Washington, D.C., which has essentially eliminated murder through the use of psychic beings called Pre-Cogs who can foresee the future. Pre-Crime processes these visions, determines when and where the crime will be committed and gets there in time to stop it.

The philosophical quandary is that people are arrested and imprisoned for crimes they have not yet committed. It's not exactly profiling, but it's a logical progression.

Anderton believes in his work. He joined the department after losing his young son years earlier, in hopes of keeping others from feeling the anguish he still suffers. But then the Pre-Cogs spit out his name as the future murderer of one Leo Crow -- a man he doesn't know.

So is the system fallible after all? If so, how many innocent people languish in what is now called Containment? Or is Anderton really a killer-in-waiting?

On a larger scale, the question is metaphysical. Is our fate pre-ordained, or do we have free will? The movie acknowledges the religious aspect. Some members of the public have begun to worship the Pre-Cogs as gods. The nutrient pool in which they live has been dubbed "the temple." The man who takes care of them, Wally, is played by Mt. Lebanon native Daniel London.

The jump-suited Anderton is shot from an angle that makes us look up to him as he manipulates the Pre-Cog images on a big screen by waving his hands, like a symphony conductor or a movie director or God in his heaven.

His foil is Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), a cynical FBI agent sent to watch the watchers who looks like a refugee from an old movie with his double-breasted suit and tie and his retro hairdo. No wonder he's dubious about Pre-Crime -- or is he just an old-fashioned opportunist? When Anderton goes on the lam, his former colleagues go after him, leading to a kinetic action scene that contrasts the high-tech futuristic tools of the cops with the crumbling tenements of the inner city, culminating in Witwer and Anderton going one-on-one in a robotic car factory.

The most intriguing thing about "Minority Report" is its vision of the future -- Spielberg convened a conference of experts to imagine how it might evolve. This isn't the post-apocalyptic vision of many science-fiction films, although there is a Kubrickian coolness to the color scheme, largely blues and blacks and whites.

Maglev cars crawl up the sides of buildings. Pictures move on magazine covers and newspapers update themselves with instant headlines. Shopping malls contain interactive ads that identify your eyeprint as you walk past and address you personally. The eyeprints also allow the police to monitor your movements with a variety of newfangled devices.

If Spielberg seems less starry-eyed here, it is matched by Cruise's down-to-earth demeanor. The proof of his performance is that you may forget it's him you're watching, and not just because of his cropped hair or Anderton's grisly attempts to disguise himself ("Minority Report" contains fascinating echoes of Cruise's previous movie, "Vanilla Sky.").

Farrell keeps us guessing about Witwer's motives, while Max Von Sydow as Anderton's superior does his patented turn as the wise authority figure. Samantha Morton plays the Pre-Cog Agatha, who becomes a key player in Anderton's attempt to prove his innocence.

She and the other Pre-Cogs are treated almost as a different species -- they have no freedom and are kept sedated to help them channel their visions of violent death -- but she proves they may be more human than the rest of us. Spielberg must have his outcasts, and Agatha can show Anderton the ropes -- and, perhaps, not just the future but the key to the past.

The movie's chief flaws are holes in the plotting -- Anderton depends on fooling security devices that should have been changed to reflect his fugitive status, Agatha's ability to foretell the future seems rather too selective -- and some odd scenes of dark humor that seem wildly out of place.

But they don't cloud Spielberg's vision. He understands the future may be the future, but humans are still humans. In the end, the characters of "Minority Report" are motivated by the old standbys -- ambition, paranoia, pride, power, pain, love, survival, hope. They can't take that away from us.

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