(director: Steven Spielberg; screenwriters: Philip K. Dick (short story)/Scott Frank/Jon Cohen; cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; editor: Michael Kahn; music: John Williams; cast: Tom Cruise (Detective Chief John Anderton), Samantha Morton (Agatha), Max von Sydow (Director Lamar Burgess), Steve Harris (Jad), Neal McDonough (Officer Gordon Fletcher), Patrick Kilpatrick (Knott), Jessica Capshaw (Evanna), Colin Farrell (Danny Witwer), Daniel London (Wally the Caretaker), Michael Dickman (Arthur), Matthew Dickman (Dashiell), Tim Blake Nelson (Gideon), Jason Antoon (Rufus Riley, Cyber Parlor Operator), Jessica Harper (Anne Lively), Peter Stormare (Dr. Eddie Solomon), Mike Binder (Leo Crow), Kathryn Morris (Lara Anderton), Lois Smith (Dr. Iris Hineman); Runtime: 135; 20th Century Fox/DreamWorks; 2002)
“Mainstream films don’t get any better than this one.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Steven Spielberg follows his brilliant A.I. with another brilliantly dark and brooding inventive futuristic sci-fi thriller that plays like film noir and is derivative of films such as “Blade Runner.” It is adapted from a short story by one of the great sci-fi writers, Philip K. Dick (he wrote Blade Runner). Spielberg made Dick’s short work into his lengthy 135 minute film by getting screenwriters Scott Frank and Jon Cohen to brighten up some of Dick’s more paranoiac visions in their effort to make the film more universally appealing and easier for the public to comprehend. It asks the question, Could one trust the system to ever bring crime under complete control without one’s freedoms usurped? By showing that it is impossible to always be sure an innocent person is not convicted of a crime, Spielberg’s thought-provoking film challenges us to rethink how we as a country are handling our crime problem. He shows how an innocent person can be victimized by even a flawless mechanical system, as he emphatically states that we shouldn’t trust our eyes alone to tell us what we see. It also shows how even if you knew a crime was to happen, there might be other factors that make even this visionary knowledge not enough to be conclusive–as there are always human factors to consider.
The director is starting to get heavier in his films and is starting to take on the mantle of Stanley Kubrick, as he is looking more like this country’s next resident film genius instead of the purveyor of pop culture some might have thought he would never let go of. He still does what he does best, tell a visually pleasing story, though his later scripts have become more poetical and less concerned with feeding the public their usual diet of pap. This film is less lyrical than A.I. and more given to ready-made explanations, but Spielberg’s story is so strong and his visualizations are so refreshing that he can’t really be faulted for some lingering flaws leftover from his past filmmaking. The film’s weakest point was the so-so ending, which couldn’t match the effectiveness of the films startling beginning when it presented its riveting premise by hunting down a potential killer and the action filled middle part where the cop is on-the-run.
The story is set in 2054 in Washington, D.C., where a crime wave in homicides is stopped by a novel program called Pre-Crime. A Pre-Crime agency has been successfully established in the District of Columbia for the past six years and has stopped all murders since its inception. The director and founder is the elderly Lamar Burgess (Sydow), and the unit’s chief of police is Burgess’ hand-picked protege, John Anderton (Cruise). John’s 9- year- old son Sean was abducted from a crowded swimming pool with his father present and he was never located, which gave John the incentive to help others who might have their lives destroyed by crime. John was so much in love with his son and so affected by the crime that he quit the police force and was further saddened that his wife (Kathryn Morris) divorced him because she couldn’t face looking at him and being reminded of her son. The very capable policeman was recruited to work for Lamar at the program’s inception and is the credible spokesman for the program as it attempts to get funding to go national. He wholeheartedly buys into the agency’s slogan “That which keeps us safe also keeps us free.”
The program works through the recorded visualizations of three individuals, called Pre-Cogs–the female Agatha (Morton) and the twin males Arthur and Dashiell—who are kept in a nutrient-enriched pool of water and are cared for only by their caretaker Wally while they lie in an unconscious dream state. Whenever they see a murder about to happen a red or brown ball drops into the hands of a supervisor technician Jad (Harris) and the department’s special police force goes into action. The system is supposed to be flawless because all three Pre-Cogs see the same vision, but the female is the key to the program since her visions are the strongest.
The film opens as a “Red Ball Alert” flashes (this signals a crime of passion is about to take place and the crime could happen at any moment. The other crimes get brown balls and they signal a premeditated crime to take place in about 4 days). John and a team of officers led by Gordon Fletcher descend on the suburban house of a husband who discovers his wife has taken a lover and he aims to murder his wife with a scissors attack to her eyes (seeing is the metaphor of choice throughout the film). John gets all the information he needs about the crime that will soon happen by standing in front of a blank video screen with his specially lined flashing gloves and in a series of dance movements before it, images appear on the screen. The gloves are lined with special hologram-projectors that are sensitive to the light.
John and his team are upset that the attorney general is looking for flaws in the program and seems intent on wanting to cut federal funding for it, probably because he’s competitive with this department and jealously wants the glory of fighting crime to go his way. The AG has given his special Department of Justice investigator, Danny Witwer (Farrell), carte blank powers to probe into the program before the upcoming national referendum. Soon John is uncovered by the bureaucratic Witwer as a doper (he doesn’t realize that John takes the drugs to dream of the past and maybe get clues about the kidnapping of his son). John also becomes accused of planning a Pre-Crime against someone he doesn’t even know, Leo Crow. He has no way of clearing himself, as he goes on the run, believing that he’s being setup by Witwer. In order to verify if the Pre-Cogs are always right and that he could become a murderer even if he knows he can’t be one, he breaks into the uniquely secure greenhouse of the eccentric Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith), the one who accidentally discovered that the specially selected Pre-Cogs were capable of seeing a future murder. The inventor was only trying to cure the mentally afflicted from their grief and nightmares by conducting experiments on them and surprisingly found that they were sensitized to see crimes in the future. But she no longer believes in the program as being an ethical or foolproof one, and tells John that his best chance of proving his innocence is getting to Agatha and downloading her visions. She also tells him something he didn’t realize, that there’s a ‘minority report’ given if all three don’t collectively agree on what they see and that report would indicate a flaw in the program. The program is only perfect when all three agree, therefore Cruise is now searching to see if there’s a minority report on him. There’s therefore the possibility that Cruise, not knowing about this glitch in the system, might have arrested an innocent person with no chance of him clearing his name.
There are great chase scenes with Mr. Cruise sprinting away from the police and trying to do anything to survive, even if he has to leap from great heights. In one scene computer-generated spiders try and track him down in a house search by performing a retinal scan on identities and they are so frighteningly robotic and real looking that the scene becomes unforgettable. Cars motor along at high speeds on magnetic cushions. Popular advertisements on walls or in stores address the individual consumer with personal info they have gathered about them, as the director uses this as a satire on popular culture. There are many colorful characters on Cruises’s ‘road to prove his innocence’ including Tim Blake Nelson as Gideon, the organ-playing prison keeper of the ones the Pre-Crime unit arrests; Peter Stormare as the maniacal doctor who gives Cruise a pair of replacement eyes so he can’t be identified while on the run; and, Jason Antoon as Rufus Riley, a self-promoting mall operator of a pornographic Cyber Parlor, who is forced to help Cruise record videos.
The photography by Janusz Kaminski is stylishly beautiful and sets a vivid mood of passion when red is the predominant screen color and is strikingly sharp when a chrome-like color dominates and the film sets a reflective mood. The metallic tone of the film always leaves a frenetic and tense look, and with the many plot twists and different subjects to think about this film becomes both emotionally and intellectually filling. Mr. Cruise emerges as a big-name star who can act as he gives his best performance since “Eyes Wide Shut,” in an action film that he’s actually more suited for. The other special performance, a Supporting Actress Oscar nominating one, comes from Samantha Morton’s strange role as a Pre-Cog, where she’s almost mute but is so expressive that her silence feels as if she’s actually communicating her feelings by voice.
This sci-fi film might not be exactly for the masses as it relies more on ideas and complex emotional feelings rather than trying to please the audience with a sense of cheer, but it is a brilliant example of how a creative filmmaker can be both entertaining and artistic to create a film that can possibly appeal to an audience that wants more from a thriller than the usual thrills it has been getting from so many commercially made action films. Mainstream films don’t get any better than this one.
REVIEWED ON 6/27/2002 GRADE: A