Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Steven Spielberg’s science fiction thriller, Minority Report, was a film I didn’t really appreciate on my initial viewing. I found it overlong, cold, and from memory, becoming progressively more confusing. But with a near-overwhelming critical response, and the opportunity to watch it again, I thought I’d give it another chance.

Minority Report is a blend of science fiction thriller and film noir whodunit and is based on a short story, The Minority Report by Phillip K. Dick (whose story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was adapted into Blade Runner). The similarities between the protagonists of these two stories are quite prevalent – with both Harrison Ford’s Deckard and Tom Cruise’s John Anderton existing as agents in a special police department who are trying to keep the peace within their futuristic (2019 vs. 2054) and mechanized worlds and who stumble across a case that becomes both dangerous and personal.

Minority Report is set in the year 2054 in Washington D.C. We are introduced to Anderton, who works as an agent for “PreCrime”, a specialized police department that apprehends criminals based on foreknowledge provided by three mutated human psychics called ‘precogs’. The precogs project images of a murder and the names of the perpetrators and victims, with the agents then required to locate clues within the images and assess the whereabouts of the murder and swiftly impede. As a result the city has been murder-free for six years. 

Though Anderton is a respected leader within the bureau and admired by the Director (Max Von Sydow) he has become addicted to an illegal psychoactive drug, and has a broken family. The mysterious disappearance of his son, Sean, at a local swimming pool also prompted his wife Lara to leave him. Anderton fears Danny Witmer (Colin Farell), a Federal Department of Justice agent who visits the department to audit the system, as it is poised to progress nationwide, is aware of his addiction. During the audit, a case predicting that Anderton will murder a man named Leo Crow in less than 36 hours is pushed through the system. Shocked, and barely managing to hide the case, he flees the department, with Witmer sending a manhunt in pursuit. This prompts one of the films most exciting action sequences, as Anderton jumps between vehicles on the motorway and evades his jetpack-equipped pursuers in the urban districts of the city. 

The film then blends elements of science fiction and film noir as Anderton, believing that Witmer staged the incident to have the department shut down, or eliminate Anderton to take over himself, must uncover the origins of the precognition and prove who was responsible. His journey involves seeking the advice of Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith), the leading researcher of the PreCrime technology, kidnapping Agatha (Samantha Morton), the lead pregog, having his eyes surgically replaced and successfully evading mobile scanners that infiltrate the building (another of the spectacular suspense sequences) and coming face-to-face with the man responsible for the disappearance of his son. I still think the film is too long, and there are scenes were it drags, but it is intelligent, thought provoking and features several unexpected but effective twists. 

I guess the problem I initially had with the story is that Anderton is predicted to murder a man, but without him initially discovering this prediction and fleeing, the chain of events that follow would not have led him to that point. The discovery is essential to the act transpiring. But what the film does well is recognize that this is the case and explaining why. There is a scene at the centre of the film, which is predominantly exposition, but it fills in the gaps of what has transpired, eliminates the potential implausibility of Anderton's situation and allows the film to indulge in the suspense and continue to heighten the mystery in the second half. I felt like I was kept informed about everything, which is quite a feat considering the complexity of the world.

This complexity, which continues to develop Anderton's character, and surround him with intriguing antagonists, as well as concisely lead us along through this film noir-esque mystery, is a testament to Spielberg's direction. John William's score, as always, is exceptional, while the film's unique look, the cold, desaturated images from cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List) and the extraordinary visual effects bring this dazzling futuristic world to life.

Art dirctor Alex McDowell blends both elements of the 20th Century (the Washington monuments, the suburban housing) with eye-catching otherworldly skyscrapers and vehicular devices that scoot around the city. Other incredible features of this world include a floating computer interface, which Anderton can manipulate through the use of a groovy glove mechanism and various gestures. There is sprawling advertising that addresses the viewer personally, and eye scanners that can immediately identify anyone who enters a building.

But what interested me the most about this film are the central themes of free will vs. determinism. Are our fates predetermined, and can they be avoided? Can we be sure about effects of an action, or the outcomes of a decision? Witmer makes a great observation early in the film. He declares that the individuals arrested have not actually broken any laws. Evident from the film's opening sequence, in which Anderton stops a murder seconds before it was going to be committed, we can assume that each of the people arrested would have been responsible for the predicted crime. It is revealed later, through the revelation that the precogs sometimes 'disagree', that this may not be the case. But to prove to Witmer at this point, Anderton rolls a ball toward him. He catches it before it hits the ground, with Anderton concluding that just because he caught the ball and impeded its fall does not stop the fact that it was inevitably going to fall. I do like this film, and in the career of Spielberg I guess it sits around the middle, but it's not one I will find myself readily revisiting.

My Rating: ★★★★ (B)


  1. I love "Minority Report" - clearly a lot more than you.

    Nice stars by the way - I noticed all the new details my man ;)

  2. Yeah, I enjoyed it this time, but not a huge fan. Thanks. Been updating!

  3. Nice post. I really enjoyed this movie when I saw it the first time. I need to revisit it to see if it holds up. I'm glad that you enjoyed it more this time.

  4. Solid sci-fi flick but definitely on the overlong side. The last third really drags on for me.

  5. I hated this film when I first saw it (I was only nine or ten years old, though). I recently revisited and pretty much agree with what you said, solid, but not one I'll be rewatching any time soon. it also dragged on a tad too long, in my opinion. Nice review!

  6. I got my wisdom teeth out recently and Minority Report is one of the film's I watched (again) while I was recovering. I'm a fan. I love the idea that your fate is more or less set but you can change it if you want. I guess that was the case with both Anderton and his boss.

    I liked the prisoner aspect - they're all just put to sleep. Kind of creepy that they were all released at the end. The guy from the beginning was definitely going to kill his wife - he would have stabbed her if Anderton hadn't stopped him.

  7. With the exception of The Adjustment Bureau, I've liked the Philip K Dick adaptations I've seen. I'm not the biggest fan of Tom Cruise, but still I liked this movie. Perhaps it helped a bit too that it's one of my olderst daughters favourite movies ever, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Oh, and a special mentioning of Max von Sydow. I get so happy every time I see him in a movie. Still going strong!

  8. This one still holds up for me. I will say that in a perfect world the film would have ended with the shot of Cruise being locked away. It would have been a powerful ending, especially with the villain getting away with it. I found the film falters a bit after that scene as Spielberg tries too hard to wrap everything up nicely.

  9. @ Dan - Thanks. I think it will hold up, if you have enjoyed it previously.

    @ Castor - Yeah, I felt the same way. Following the exciting chase sequence, and the meeting with Iris, the film has already surpassed an hour. It ties in a lot of stuff; both the mystery surrounding his son, and Burgess' crime, but it drags on numerous occasions and is bogged down initially by exposition.

    @ Vik - Yeah, I watched it on DVD back in 2003, and while I thought it was solid, it didn't really engage me, and I remember dismissing it. I had always claimed to not liking it - up until now. Thanks!

    @ Robert - Yeah, I agree. While that guy at the start was definitely going to kill his wife, he likely wasn't a violent person capable of committing more than a crime of passion - but the release of some of the other prisoners, who may have been more violent and committed more heinous (and even premeditated) crimes is certainly creepy.

    That theme was the one that interested me the most. When you have prior knowledge of your fate - as the employees of the bureau did - they are capable of changing it, but as a result undermine the effects of PreCrime. There are some really interesting ideas in this film.

    @ Jessica - Oh, I love Max Von Sydow. Is it just me, or did that guy look old in The Exorcist? His work with Bergman is great, but he seems to have looked old for some time - most recently he was in Shutter Island.

    I enjoyed The Adjustment Bureau, but Blade Runner is one of my favourite of the Phillip K. Dick adaptations. I don't like Tom Cruise either, but he is capable of carrying a film (Born on the Fourth of July) even if he is often more memorable for his supporting roles (Magnolia).

    @ CS - Yeah, he tries to keep viewers informed throughout the whole film, even to the point of tagging on a neat ending. I like your idea!

    Still, the twists are effective and this is a pretty intelligent balance of character study, sci-fi action thriller and noir detective mystery, and the fact that Spielberg keeps it all relatively concise has to be admired.

    Thanks for the comments everyone!!

  10. I'm a pretty big fan of this film. Definitely one of my favorite sci-fi movies of the last decade. I think what I appreciated most about it was the future world they developed for the film. The special features on the DVD (I'm not sure if they're on the Blu-Ray) went through how they came up with some technology, and it was pretty interesting.