A murder mystery, a sci-fi action movie, a family drama = Tom Cruise… in the future!
Why We Love It
There’s been a lot of shameful Phillip K. Dick adaptations. From John Woo’s comically bad Paycheck to the just plain bad Next, Dick’s prolific work does not always receive the best of treatments. However, Stephen Spielberg delivered one of those best treatments. In the vein of Blade Runner and Total Recall, I have no doubt that Minority Report will be regarded as a classic one day.
Not only is it a perfect action movie, but a near-perfect film in general. From a technical to structural standpoint, very few false notes are hit. The story is consistently moving. Everything about this futuristic world is set up in a tremendously accomplished first act. A thought-provoking, subtle gray area is hit. The pacing never stops, but it also does not rush to get to the action-packed goods.
Like all great science-fiction, Minority Report poses genuine questions. Can an individual change their fate if they know their own destiny, or is there no possible way to stop what’s coming? The million dollar question, of course: Should someone be charged with murder, despite not haven committed murder?
A perfect middle-ground is struck to provide legit arguments for both sides. When it comes to the changing one’s destiny question, there are two polar opposite cases of how that idea is handled in the film. John Anderton (Tom Cruise) knows when the crime is meant to occur, wants to do everything he can to avoid killing Crowe, and yet the murder still occurs. Things do not go down as exactly envisioned, but just how the precogs foresaw, John shoots the man.
On the flip side is Lamar Burgess’s (Max von Sydow) case. Before taking his own life, John warns him about the consequences of the two choices he has, “Shoot me and prove PreCrime works or don’t shoot me and prove that it’s flawed system. Lamar killing John is what the precogs predicted… but that vision does not come to fruition. Unlike John’s scenario, Lamar altered his situation where it mattered: by not committing murder.
The film provides two reasonable point of views on all its questions.
When Colin Farrell enters the picture, he plays the higher-up that one would expect to be the villain. That’s not the case. Danny Witwer is the perfect semi-antagonist to John. He lost an important family member, but unlike John, does not believe in PreCrime.
Witwer is the only detective in the film that has worked on real murder cases. Everyone else, PreCrime supporters in particular, view it as a simple “Let’s go catch the bad guy, with no questions asked!” whereas Witwer sees it as a genuine process, where all angles should be examined and carefully studied. He may be the most cynical character in the film (which is an archetype that Spielberg has used a few times to ask the bigger questions about the ethics of a complex scenario) but he is also the smartest.
What could have been a one-note smarmy federal agent is a fully realized, thematically important, legit threat of a character. By looking at most conventional antagonists, it’s clear when they have no chance of defeating the hero. Farrell, physically and strategically, comes off like he could potentially take John down.
Speaking of Cruise, this may be his best performance. There is a genuine sadness and humility that the superstar brings to John. Cruise doesn’t care if you find this druggy detective charming — he is not someone I would want to hang with on a Saturday night — but that the audience sympathizes with his pain and regret, which we do.
On the outside, he is a basic action hero. On the inside, he is a tortured character from a family drama. This is about a man whose family was ruined, and by the end, he achieves redemption and creates two more families; he saves the precogs and gets another baby in the oven. Going even deeper, John takes the precogs away from a pool, like his son was. Instead of taking a life away as his son’s kidnapper did, he gives it.
Many criticize the happy ending John gets, but it is completely earned. The tortured hero becomes aware of his obliviousness to the moral issues with PreCrime. John considered it to be a simple “1+1 = 2” process, but he then comes to see it as nothing of the sort.
Moment We Fell in Love
The first act of Minority Report is how you do the world building exposition right. Rather than choosing to use a lazy text-scroll or a goofy voice-over — most likely, and preferably, done by Morgan Freeman — explaining the mechanics of this future, Spielberg shows you.
In the first few minutes, it is astonishing how much is established; what type of guy John is, how the Minority Report works, how PreCrime is viewed in the public eye, and what type of noir future has Spielberg thrown us into.
There are people who love Minority Report, but it doesn’t seem to be regarded as one of Spielberg’s best yet. Perhaps audiences saw it as another Tom Cruise action movie, and not the brilliant post 9/11 commentary that it is; losing our rights in favor of protection. Sound familiar?
Thrilling, imaginative, smart, entertaining, slick, full of great performances– how many more hyperbolic adjectives do I need to write?