Tuesday 20 October 2015

Movie Review: Minority Report (2002)

A science fiction thriller, Minority Report offers up thoughtful questions about societal justice, the nature of crime and free will, packaged with plenty of futuristic action.

In the year 2054, the PreCrime corporation has successfully implemented a crime prevention pilot program in Washington D.C. Using the predictive powers of three "Precogs", police detectives can uncover the intent to commit murder, and stop the killers before they strike. Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is the main enforcement officer who swings into action to arrest would-be murderers. He is both haunted and motivated by the abduction of his young son Sean, an incident which fractured John's marriage to Lara (Kathryn Morris). Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow) is the founder of PreCrime, and the plummeting murder rate in Washington has resulted in his rise to prominence and a push to expand the program nationally.

The Department of Justice sends in agent Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) to audit the program before it expands, and he uncovers John's drug habit, as well as the program's dependence on the three Precogs: a woman named Agatha (Samantha Morton) and twin brothers kept in a drugged state of suspended animation where they see visions of the future and predict the names of would-be victims and perpetrators. With PreCrime's future looking good, John's life is thrown into turmoil: the Precogs predict that he will murder a man named Leo Crow. John has to go on the run, his own team in hot pursuit, to clear his name, uncover who Crow is, and why the Precogs could possibly be wrong.

An adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story directed by Steven Spielberg, Minority Report is a glossy, well-polished thriller, featuring an athletic Tom Cruise in fine form and a thought-provoking premise. The film grapples with the fundamental issue of whether a crime is still a crime when it has not yet been committed, and weighs society's desire for public safety against the liberty of individuals apprehended for their thoughts.

While some key plot points are lost in the dazzling early barrage of technology, Spielberg generally controls the pacing with expert precision, taking the necessary time to introduce a fairly complex premise before delving deep into a labyrinthine conspiracy involving a secret from the past threatening the march towards a society free of murder.

The action scenes are not as strong, and do drag the film down. Spielberg adopts a CGI-heavy aesthetic featuring plenty of pod-like cars zooming at insane speeds in all directions, including vertically. It's a child-like idea of transportation's future, all image and no logic, and sure enough John is thrown into Frogger-type situations of hopping from pod to pod to escape his pursuers. Not much better and just as juvenile are officers equipped with cumbersome jet packs, all too easily dispatched by the under-equipped John in over-the-top hand-to-hand combat scenes.

The film is lengthy at 145 minutes, and fortunately Spielberg steers the final third towards the more cerebral elements, as John continues to peel away the layers of his own destiny to uncover a convoluted but clever plot. Here again the film asks good questions, about the value of one crime being committed to help prevent many others from taking place.

Tom Cruise slices through the film with professional ease, never stretching as John Anderton but finding the requisite intensity as a hero forced to clear his name. Max von Sydow lends his distinguished brand of gravitas to the role of Lamar Burgess, the old man gradually emerging as a key character in the second half of the film. In relative terms, Colin Farrell is a black hole, unable to bring any convincing menace to the role of Danny Witwer.

Late in the film, Samantha Morton steps out of the small precognition pool of milky fluid and into a more active role as Agatha. Peter Stormare enjoys a small but memorable turn as an underground surgeon who helps John with a new pair of eyes to defeat the pervasive retinal scan security systems.

Minority Report has its flaws, but provides substantive futuristic entertainment with plenty of bristly concepts worthy of debate.

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