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Minority Report

(2002) *** 1/2 Pg-13
145 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, Lois Smith.

A visual marvel packed with futurist invention and fueled with moral ambiguity, Minority Report is a twin genre companion piece (science fiction and hard-boiled noir) to the science fiction meets fairy tale A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.

Set only three years after A.I., Minority Report adds a layer of cement to the understanding that Spielberg is a (man-)child of 20th Century popular cinema. Still hungry to approximate Kubrick's indelible 2001 futurism, Spielberg returns to chasing Hitchcock's shadow, throws in some Howard Hawks and John Huston, and answers Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Terry Gilliam's "La Jetee"-inspired Twelve Monkeys. What then does pop master Spielberg bring to the table himself? Only undeniable, virtuosic, hard-wired skill. Spielberg melts down every inspiration and reshapes it into the gilded ornamentation on a classic, head-spinning Philip K. Dick concept. Like the four-star cinema of the "golden age," Report takes full advantage of a moody star (Tom Cruise, bringing his "A-game"), "high-concept" premise, and carefully orchestrated Hollywood craft (like Oscar-worthy editing by Spielberg stalwart Michael Kahn).

Cruise plays John Anderton, a haunted techno-dick who—between drug-fueled forays into holograms of his lost family life—nabs murderers before they're able to do the deeds. The Pre-Crime unit, a pilot program in Washington, D.C., operates thanks to a trio of "Pre-Cogs" (anchored by Samantha Morton's hauntingly punchdrunk Agatha) who work in concert to pull pre-visualizations of murders out of the psychic ether. Treated as livestock, the Pre-Cogs are jacked-in and submerged in a pool, while the detectives perched in a sleek workstation above them collect the names of murderers and victims--presented on spheres suspiciously reminiscent of lottery balls--and sort the images to find the killers. Spielberg and screenwriter Scott Frank (recalling the glorious "retro" of his Dead Again screenplay) miraculously make the requisite exposition, in turns, pulse-pounding and fascinating. Soon enough, the Pre-Cogs finger Anderton for the future murder of a man he's never met, and the game is afoot. So are ingenious questions of social philosophy and policy that resonate loudly in a time when privacy and justice violations in the name of industry and social-climbing are treated as a matter of course.

Chief among Spielberg's cinematic godfathers here is Hitch, which makes for the film's best qualities of limber, vertiginous camerawork (wedded to tense Hermmann-esque stylings by John Williams) and reverberant symbolism. Like Hitchcock's best, the symbolism and character motivation hold up to scrutiny (though the plot occasionally succumbs to Hitch's "icebox logic"--meaning you'll question it hours later). The film begins with ripples crossing the studio logos, embedding the idea--which the film upends--of cause and effect and the more pervasive imagery of water (immersive, deadly, (re)vivifying). Spielberg makes hay of the idea of vision and its impairment as Big Brother watches and the "eyes of the nation" evaluate the worth of Precrime (Spielberg also more than hints at the notion of voyeurism in the image-saturated future). Lastly, the director apes, to good effect, Hitch's gift for perverse supporting characters and wicked humor, though Spielberg inclines too often to the sophomoric grossout.

The cast is uniformly fine, with Max Von Sydow as Anderton's fatherly boss and Colin Farrell (spot-on American accent and all) especially good as his cock-of-the-walk nemesis. Lois Smith--as a sort of mad scientist--anchors a creepy hothouse scene which conjures the avuncular dread of William Faulkner's opening scene for Hawks' The Big Sleep, while Peter Stormare and Tim Blake Nelson sketch greasy, untrustworthy types along the margins. Cruise's movie star magnetism veers quickly off the familiar course and pays its greatest dividends in the pivotal moment that ends the film's countdown clock.

Minority Report is, in essence, a juiced-up pulp mystery with multiple climaxes (though far less egregious in this respect than A.I., Report also has a natural ending point around the two-hour mark), but damn if it isn't crackerjack entertainment. The type of vintage Spielberg ride that makes you want to get right back on, Minority Report also gives you something to think about while you wait, once more, in line.

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