Minority Report (review)

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Fight the Future

(Best of 2002)

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be Steven Spielberg. It was Raiders, of course, that blew the 12-year-old me away with its exuberant movieness — so confidently, cheerily reveling in sheer escapism and adventure. The beat-upable hero with the crooked grin; the mythic treasures; the suave villain; the exotic locales; the “throw me the idol, I throw you the whip” — this was why I knew I had to be involved in movies somehow. I’ve been accused of mentioning Raiders and Spielberg with this same breathless gushing too many times, but I can’t help it. Nothing says “movies” to me more than Indiana Jones’s theme music, except maybe the name “Steven Spielberg.” He is fundamentally synonymous with movies in my mind.

And 20 years from now, thirtysomething movie lovers will be saying the same thing about Spielberg, only they’ll be talking about Minority Report.
Oh yeah, it’s that good, in that shivery, transporting way that makes you wonder how flickering images viewed in the dark can be so damn powerful. In that way that, when it’s over, you’re dying to rehash every moment with your movie buddies, only you’re all too stunned to do anything but drop your jaws in amazement. And eventually one of you manages to spurt out a “Wow!” and the ice of dumbfoundment is broken and later they’re kicking you out of the diner or the Starbucks even though you’re still not finished trying to wrap your collective heads around it.

I’m dying to say this is Spielberg’s best movie since Raiders, and it might even be true. It’s got the thinky, soul-searching stuff of his recent films — like the unjustly unappreciated A.I. — combined with the gee-whiz popcorn fun of the Indy movies and the dinosaur flicks. In truth, Spielberg probably hasn’t given us a film like this since Close Encounters.

I usually don’t like predicting future-classic status of a newly released film, but I can’t help it in this case. Call it Precriticism. This is a perfect film, and a perfectly entertaining one.

Put me down for the DVD now.

This is the first great sci-fi noir, a sorta update of D.O.A., only here, instead of a countdown to his death, the antihero hero is counting down to a murder he’s going to commit. Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise: Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia) heads Washington, D.C.’s Department of Precrime, which, in the middle of the 21st century, uses psychics, or “precogs,” to foretell future murders. The cops watch the precogs’ visions and go arrest the murderer before the murder happens, and then they incarcerate him for a murder he didn’t commit. They got the idea from John Ashcroft.

It’s terrifying in a political sense, echoing as it does the Constitutional morass we’ve gotten ourselves into today, and it’s thought-provoking in an existential sense: If we know our future, can we change it? Because that’s what happens to Anderton: The precogs see him kill someone he doesn’t know 36 hours into the future, and it’s the vision of the future itself that sends Anderton on a collision course with his will-be victim. If not for the vision, there’d be no murder; and if not for the murder, there’d be no vision. It’s like asking, Where did the pocketwatch come from in Somewhere in Time? And if Anderton knows about the murder and yet doesn’t want to commit it, is forewarned forearmed and can he stop it from happening at all? This is why you’ll be getting kicked out of diners at closing time after the movie. These are the kinds of issues that have haunted the great filosophers for millennia, and it is not going to be resolved over a couple of burgers or milkshakes.

And Precrime ain’t the half of it. The future has lots of ways to kill freedom, just like the black-helicopters-are-invading types have been talking about: Retinal scans of everyone’s eyes track and identify, which is maybe a good thing when you can just look at the Metro car for admission to the subway, and maybe an annoying thing when billboards address you by name, and definitely a bad thing when you’re trying to hide. You don’t want to know what a guy like Anderton has to do in order to stay hidden.

But damn, Spielberg is a genius in how he deals with some of the more gruesome aspects of this world, like in picking the usually wrongly cast Peter Stormare (Bad Company) as a creepy underground plastic surgeon; Anderton’s visit to him is sickeningly funny. There’s no end to the engaging oddballs populating Minority Report, actually, like Tim Blake Nelson’s (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) meditative jailer to Lois Smith’s (The Pledge) slightly mad scientist to Samantha Morton’s (Jesus’ Son) preternatural, naifish precog. They’re strange people, but Spielberg gives them enough room to be real.

If Spielberg was a tad too self-consciously trying to be a grownup with, say, Schindler and Ryan, and if his gravity got too much in the way of a good time in A.I., none of that is evident here — this is a huge leap beyond anything Spielberg has done before, the wished-for maturity finally combining with the joie-de-film confidence of Raiders and Jaws. Yes, Virginia, there are thinky popcorn movies. And the interesting and sad thing is that, on the surface, Minority Report gives us many of the same things that Spielberg’s old buddy George Lucas offers us this same summer in Attack of the Clones: visually, like flying cars and a chase through a factory, and metaphysically, like the battle between predestination and free will. And Lucas suffers suddenly by comparison. Sure, I’ll still defend Star Wars to the death, but Minority Report doesn’t need defending — Spielberg’s vision feels ripe and wise while Lucas’s, well, doesn’t. Clones is a clunky leftover, a mere rehashing of an old project. Report is re-energizing, fusing two too-often-junky genres — sci-fi and noir — to create something damn close to a modern pulp masterpiece, an SF L.A. Confidential.

I mean, there’s a moment — what a moment — between Max von Sydow (Nuremberg), as Anderton’s boss, and Colin Farrell (Hart’s War), as a Justice Department overseer of Precrime, and they’re wearing snappy, squared-off suits, right outta the 1950s only not, and the whole scene is about all the intense undercurrents rippling through these two cerebral actors, and I could swear I felt the ghosts of Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce in the room. It was one of those, well…

It was a Wow.

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