20th Century Fox
Who could've predicted that Steven Spielberg would be the first director to do full cinematic justice to a Phillip K. Dick story since Ridley Scott's Blade Runner in 1983? No doubt he had the financial muscle to pull off the future to suitable affect, but would he have the vision and chutzpah to shoulder Dick's darkness in Hollywood? Surprisingly, the answer is a definitive yup (excepting the nauseatingly sentimental last minute).
Set in Washington, D.C. in the not-so-distant year 2054, Minority Report tells the story of John Anderton (Tom Cruise), the Chief of Pre-Crime -- a new form of law enforcement that uses the visions of a trinity of "precognitives" to prevent murders that haven't yet happened. Tortured by the kidnapping of his son and the breakup of his family, Anderton has zealously dedicated himself to the Pre-Crime system, which his friend and mentor Lamar Burgess (Max Von Sydow) invented, believing it could have saved his son and his marriage.
Just before Pre-Crime becomes a national system, however, Anderton is confronted with an investigation by the FBI and agent Danny Witwer (Colin Farrele). Not long after the investigation begins, Anderton finds himself in a pre-cog vision, set to murder a man he doesn't know in 36 hours. The hunter becomes the hunted, and Anderton must evade the team he trained, prove his own innocence, and discover the truth.
With a plot like this, and a budget to match its genius, much of the thrill of Minority Report is in the art direction and special effects. They bring us every detail of a future-noir world where surveillance has become as much a marketing tool as it is a form of policing.
From the Orwellian, all-pervasive retinal scanners to the "Mag-Lev" magnetic road system, 2054 is a world both elegantly efficient and well designed, and chillingly devoid of any real freedoms.
Crime-fighting devices like jet packs and "sick-sticks" that make you puke add to the fantastical side of the story, while shots of decrepit tenements and fetid alleyways remind us of the social disparities no amount of futurism can ever reconcile.
What's ultimately most satisfying about Philip K. Dick stories is the way he so deftly toys with social metaphors. Central to Minority Report is the notion of vision. Seeing, both literally and figuratively, and the importance of examining the eyes with which we see the world, becomes the pervasive vehicle for commentary on our human propensity toward crime and punishment, greed and charity, sin and redemption.
Hats off to Spielberg for managing the ambiguities with an uncanny dexterity, and to Tom Cruise, by gum, for playing it straight!
-- Noel Black