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Minority Report card

Movies | Steven Spielberg's science-fiction thriller is one of the famed director's best, if also one of his edgiest, movies

Issue: "Summer Books 2002," July 7, 2002

It's shaping up to be a good summer-at least at the movies. During a season of endless hype promoting an endless stream of mostly mindless movies, the most viewers can hope for are a few whose artistic integrity makes them stand out from the crowd. Spider-Man did this for families with older kids early in the summer, and now Minority Report does this for adult moviegoers as we head into July.

Minority Report, the latest film from director Steven Spielberg, is not for kids, but it's one of a relatively few adult films that's actually appropriate for adults (as opposed to appropriate for no one, as many films are). It's rated PG-13 for violence, brief bad language, some sexuality, and drug content. The film is not overly graphic, but it is dark, and its themes are mature.

Steven Spielberg is almost always, if nothing else, a compelling filmmaker. There are exceptions, like Hook (1991) and The Lost World (1997). But, on the whole, Mr. Spielberg has been highly successful in blending pop spirituality and his own peculiar sensibilities with solid popular entertainment.

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Minority Report is no exception. The highly anticipated pairing of Mr. Spielberg with Tom Cruise, Hollywood's most bankable star, is one of the director's best, if also one of his edgiest, films.

Minority Report's screenplay is adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story by Scott Frank (Out of Sight and Get Shorty) and Jon Cohen. It's set in Washington, D.C., in the year 2054. John Anderton (Mr. Cruise) heads up an elite Pre-Crime unit of the police force, an experimental program in its sixth successful year of operation. The unit concerns itself solely with murder, and, as the name implies, makes its arrests before the actual acts are committed. The cops do this based on information obtained from three "pre-cogs," semi-human beings floating in a nutrient bath that have the ability to see hazy visions of future murders within a 200-mile radius.

Director Burgess, the program's founder and chief proponent (played by Max von Sydow), has high hopes of expanding the program nationally. Anderton, who is chiefly motivated by his own pain in losing a son, has full faith in what he believes is an infallible system. He chafes under the probing questions of Detective Ed Witwer (Colin Farrell), an investigator from the Justice Department trying to find weaknesses in the system-and seemingly gunning for Anderton's job.

Anderton's attitude changes when the complicated system of reading the pre-cogs' visions identifies Anderton himself as a future murderer. In 36 hours, according to the "flawless" Pre-Crime system, Anderton will apparently kill a man he's never met.

Minority Report is successful on several levels. As an action film, Mr. Spielberg's technical expertise has never been more evident. As science fiction, it has an internal consistency far surpassing most examples of the genre. Minority Report is a prime example of the effective, limited use of special effects. Many visions of the future seem to imagine a world where the past has been scrubbed away, aside from winking references to the archaic pop culture of our own day. Mr. Spielberg's Washington, D.C., half a century advanced, is spookily believable. Although modern, miles-high apartment complexes dot the skyline, Georgetown residents still live in familiar brownstone row houses.

Futuristic advances are well thought out and resemble our own way of living just enough to be plausible. More importantly, the basic ideas at the heart of the story are sturdy enough to withstand the occasional flaws in the film's logic. Any story that is bold enough to take on the ability to see, and, in some sense, interact with, the future faces some inherent problems. But Minority Report challenges its audience to stay with it, and think through the difficult sections rather than dismissing the entire enterprise 10 minutes into the film.

As an exercise in ethics, there's also quite a bit here, but most of the ideas are never fully fleshed out. The complexity of the film's plot and its desire to take on issues of free will, guilt, the nature of justice, and personal privacy will be a treat to adult moviegoers. But Mr. Spielberg's own ambivalent worldview, in which his liberal personal politics often seem to conflict with his desire to tell a good story, prevent him from being entirely successful on this front. There's also a very "Spielbergian" ending that is inconsistent with most of the film's tone.

Minority Report, however, is a solid package. Those looking for more than the typical summer fare likely won't be disappointed.

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