Minority Report

MINORITY REPORT impacts and resounds through a fortuitous merging of forward-thinking talents; trim and sharp source material from a visionary writers prodigious output, enlarged and embellished by one of cinema’s most imaginative storytellers. Steven Spielberg’s exciting and unnerving 2002 futuristic sci-fi mystery thriller is one of the smartest in the genre.

2054, Washington D.C. The capital city’s PreCrime police department uses a seemingly foolproof system where imminent homicides are ‘witnessed’ by a trio of “Precogs”—sort of mutant psychics—who pre-visualize murders and relay the suspects to the arresting unit led by ‘John Anderton’ (Tom Cruise), which locates and swoops down on the scene of the predetermined assault. Justice Department hotshot ‘Danny Witwer’ (Colin Farrell) audits the program prior to its nationwide implementation, clashing heads with Anderton. Foolproof technology? What if there is a ‘cog’ in the machine?

Scott Frank and John Cohen wrote the superior script, adapted from the 1956 short story by Philip K. Dick that was originally published in “Fantastic Universe” magazine (1953-60). Spielberg commented that the “…story only gives you a springboard that really doesn’t have a second or third act. Most of the movie is not in the Philip K. Dick story-– to the chagrin of the Philip K. Dick fans, I’m sure.”

Dick fans (did I just write that?) could rest easy, as Spielberg’s genius at marshaling talent for effect creates a surveillance-dominated future that’s a plausibly realistic depiction of what might loom ahead (more so, to my pre-cog peepers, than the one in Blade Runner), blending utopia with dystopia, overlaid with a film noir look and feel, and a fascinating, unsettling array of ‘advances’.

In this shadows & light de-Disney’d Tomorrow-land, cereal boxes pester you with annoying 3D animation, cars zoom horizontally and vertically at 140mph, cops descend on suspects with jet packs, then disarm them with “sick sticks”, and when you stroll through stores, relentless advertisers and retailers scan you, greeting you personally with a barrage of buying suggestions. *

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Along with the brilliant special effects and art direction, the Orwellian (sounds better than Dickian) mirror is reflected by Spielberg’s cameraman Janusz Kaminski, who achieved the de-saturated look by a process called ‘bleach bypassing’, which retains silver in the emulsion processing of film, rendering a black & white layer over color, with added graininess.

Even toting a hefty 145 minutes, the movie moves like a panicked fox, with stunningly fluid action sequences of incredible complexity—the chase through the traffic, the leapfrog battle in the alley and up & down fire escapes, the wild fight among the automated machines in the factory—just fantastic stuff.

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Thankfully, plot, theme and characterization aren’t swallowed by the breathless pace and technological dazzle. The script is top rate, and the cast eagerly bite into their roles. The focused intensity of Cruise and Farrell make for a dynamic clash, and the supporting lineup is gifted by particularity delicious bits from Lois Smith, Peter Stormare and Tim Blake Nelson, all of them full-on Loony Tuners.  Samantha Morton is harrowing as the pitiable Precog ‘Agatha’.

The production outlay came up to $102,000,000, with advertising adding a good $40,000,000 more. In order to keep the budget within sanity range, the director and his star opted to skip up-front salaries and instead each gamble on 15% slices of the gross. Since it reached place #17 in the States, with a worldwide take of $358,373,000, Steven and Tom came out more than OK, ensuring that their future, at any rate, would be fairly secure.

Cast includes Max von Sydow, Kathryn Morris, Neal McDonough, Steve Harris, Patrick Kilpatrick, Mike Binder and Jessica Harper. The sole Oscar nomination came for Sound Editing.

*I vividly recall seeing this for the first time, being struck as if by an electric prod with a dead-certain “Yes, they will do f–ing do this!” over inexorable ‘free market’ assaults on personal space via omnipresent observation and inescapable advertising insanity. For further here-it-comes chills, read “Next”, by Michael Crichton. Time to pack up those classic books you were always going to read, grab favorite westerns on Blu-Ray, load a crate of Scotch and hitch a steamer to Fiji. Whoops, that other future staring us in the puss will kiss off the beaches, coral and fish. Face it, sports fans, long before 2054 ticks in we’re S.O.L.   A good bet the 22nd Century will belong to robots and cockroaches, the Jetson’s having been jettisoned. Selfie on!

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