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Laramie Movie Scope:
Minority Report

A sleek sci-fi whodunit

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 24, 2002 -- "Minority Report," directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise, is one of the few summer films that has lived up to its own hype. That makes it the opposite of "Bad Company" and "Windtalkers."

Cruise stars as Detective John Anderton of the "pre-crime" unit in Washington, D.C. Pre-crime has cut the murder rate in D.C. to zero in the year 2054 by arresting the would-be killers before they commit the murder. Genetically-engineered "pre-cogs" can forsee the murders while floating in a futuristic think tank. These visions of future murders are picked up by skull-mounted censors and fed into a computer system which can display the images to law enforcement and judiciary officials who can quickly expedite the search and arrest warrants.

It seems like a perfect system, but of course it is not, or we wouldn't have a movie. Something goes terribly wrong and a pre-cog image shows Anderton murdering a man he does not know 36 hours in the future. Anderton must escape arrest in order to prove his innocence. It is not easy to escape detection when there are cameras and retinal scanners on every corner. There are also little spider-like robots which can search buildings, scanning retinas to find fugitives. The retinal scans are creepy. Everywhere Anderton goes giant wall-mounted television screens blurt advertising messages aimed specifically at him, instantly accessing his history of purchases. This is all linked to the retinal scans.

Although the film does have its share of action scenes combined with great special effects, it is more of a true science fiction film dealing with the social implications of technology. One action scene has Anderton leaping from one moving vehicle to another on the side of a very tall building. It is done with blue screens and digital animation, but it looks pretty impressive. Another stunt has Anderton and a pre-crime cop falling off a building with only a jet pack to prevent the two from falling to their doom. The film deals mainly with the concepts of free will versus fate. It also deals with the problem of corruption caused by too much power being controlled by too few people. The way that fate (determinism) is usually handled in films is simplistic and one-sided. This film gets into the issue a little deeper and it is more even-handed. The thesis advanced by the film (based on a short story by legendary sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, whose work inspired the movie "Blade Runner") is that if you know your fate, then you have a choice. If you don't know your fate, then you have no choice. Of course that means if you know your fate it is no longer your fate. Such contradictions are faced squarely in the film.

In one scene, Anderton rolls a ball along a table top. When the ball falls off, it is instinctively caught by government investigator Ed Witwer (Colin Farrell of "Hart's War"), who is very skeptical about the infallibility of the program. Anderton notes that it was inevitable for the ball to fall to the floor, but Witwer caught it. This is a neat argument that sums up the arguments for and against pre-crime. On the one hand, you could argue that pre-crime prevents crimes that would have happened without intervention, like Witwer catching the ball. On the other hand, if the crime never happened, you shouldn't be sending anyone to prison (even if it is a sort of high-tech, humane prison) for the prevented crime. Witwer notes that no system is infallible which relies on human beings. It is the kind of interesting argument that science fiction movies should raise, but so seldom do. The film also avoids the strictly dystopian future of "Blade Runner" and its many clones. The film's approach is more even-handed. The dramatic side of the story is also balanced by some effective humorous scenes. A running gag involving eyeballs is especially funny.

The film boasts an abundance of acting talent with Max von Sydow of "Snow Falling on Cedars" as pre-crime director Burgess, Steve Harris of "The Skulls" as pre-crime techie Jad, Peter Stormare of "Chocolat" as low-rent Dr. Solomon, Samantha Morton of "Sweet and Lowdown" as a fragile pre-cog and Tim Blake Nelson of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" as Gideon, the obsessive guardian of the pre-cogs. There are also some relatives of famous people in the movie. Eugene Osment (father of Haley Joel Osment) and Jessica Capshaw of "Valentine" (stepdaughter of Steven Spielberg) appear in the film.

The well-written screenplay by Scott Frank ("Out of Sight") and Jon Cohen includes some complex characters. Witwer seems like a guy with a hidden agenda at first, but he turns out to be something unexpected. Anderton is not a simple hero, but a flawed character with deep emotional wounds and a drug problem. Anderton's psychological journey is as interesting as his adventures trying to escape his pursuers and his investigation into what is really going on with pre-crime. The story works on multiple levels. I suppose some may see the story as being too soft-edged, but I liked it the way it was. Spielberg's direction is near flawless. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)