Movie Review: Minority Report (2002)

Title (Date of Release): Minority Report (2002)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Lead Actors: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow, Samantha Morton
Score Composer: John Williams
Length: 2 hrs., 25 minutes (145 minutes)
Rating (US): PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: In the Washington D.C. of 2054, violent crimes have been utterly eliminated due to an experimental government program called Precrime, which predicts violent acts before they occur and allows “future criminals” to be arrested. But when the program fingers its own chief, John Anderton, as a future murderer, the man must escape from his own police force and prove that he will be innocent.
Reason for Beginning: I rented it a couple years ago because the trailer had interested me, but it was on TV again recently, in high-definition. I couldn’t remember how it started, so I thought “Oh, I’ll just watch the first few minutes.”
Reason for Finishing: Couldn’t. Stop. Watching.
Movie Re-watchability: Very high. This is a movie almost defined by motion. Nothing stays the same for more than a few seconds. There is always something interesting both visually (and often intellectually) going on. You are always wondering how a certain mystery will be solved or problem overcome. Dialogue is lean and focused. Action is satisfying. Performances are all engaging, with a well-chosen cast.
Director Re-watchability: Who are we kidding here? It’s Spielberg! Sure he has his misses, and no movie is perfect, but I can’t think of a movie where he’s been boring. And frequently, he’s great.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of just about anything associated with this movie, you will probably enjoy it on some level: science fiction, action movies, chase movies, “thinky” movies, twist movies, mystery movies, noir and neo-noir, dystopian fiction, utopian fiction…

Key Thoughts

I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Minority Report in theater when it was released, and I can only imagine how the white-knuckle tension and action would have been magnified on a huge screen. This film is an excellent example of why Steven Spielberg is one of the great master directors of American cinema. It’s a perfect balancing act, a movie that sacrifices neither ideas nor action, nor emotion, nor mystery, in the service of its story. Of course, that’s a terribly vague and cliché statement, but I’ll elaborate in the following paragraphs. How can we categorize this movie? It is a sci-fi neo-noir that prefers to tell its story on Earth and with humans, much like Blade Runner (1982) and Gattaca (1997). It’s a twisty mystery, a classic whodunit of double-crosses, murder, and troubled pasts. It’s also an innocent-man-on-the-lamb chase movie, not unlike The Fugitive (1993). And it all fits together; it works, it feels like, yes, this is the way this story should be told.

Shadows only exist in private, secluded areas in this film, like Anderton's home shown here. Every public place is filled with bright light at every angle. The government is always watching.

Tom Cruise turns in one of his better performances as John Anderton, chief of Washington D.C.’s Precrime unit. In six years they have virtually eliminated violent crime in the city. The system is based on technology that can access the minds of the Pre-Cogs (short for precognition), who are three people born with a special kind of brain damage that causes them to always dream of the most violent crimes that are about to happen in the near future, from a few seconds to a few days ahead of time. Anderton believes in the system completely, having lost his own young son in a kidnapping just months before Precrime started. It’s almost a religion to him, a fact pointed out by Danny Whitwer (Farrell), the Department of Justice representative sent to investigate the system for any faults before a vote that will determine if it goes national. Anderton’s faith is shaken, however, when the Pre-Cogs dream of him shooting a man in cold blood, with clear, murderous intent. This vision can’t be right, and yet, as Anderton himself had believed, the Pre-Cogs are never wrong.

Sonic blast gun in action.

A kind colleague lets him get a running start before alerting the rest of the police force, who give chase with jetpacks, robot spiders that scan people’s eyes to ID them, and these cool nonlethal guns that knock people back with a sort of sonic blast (left). He learns that occasionally a Pre-Cog has a dissenting vision, called a minority report, that suggests a different possibility for the future. For some reason, this information has been suppressed, even from him, the chief of the Precrime police. This all is clearly about more than just John Anderton. Meanwhile, Whitwer, who has taken control of the manhunt of Anderton, also begins to suspect that something else is going on, and conducts a separate investigation of his own.

Like a spa...except you're drugged so that you can hardly move or think independently...and you're never quite asleep or quite awake...and you dream of murder...and your skin probably gets all pruny...

Since childhood, the Pre-Cogs have been kept in a kind of drugged limbo state, floating in a pool in a secure chamber of the Precrime building, never allowed to have a life or, as it seems, any rights at all. Their violent dreams are projected onto the roof’s ceiling, and can be immediately uploaded to a large glass computer screen where Anderton can manipulate the images and examine them for clues as to the place and nature of the crime. The way he interacts with the futuristic motion-sensing computer screen, like a symphonic conductor, is surprisingly beautiful. Beautiful, yet with a very practical application. In fact, the whole film looks great. Colors are washed out a bit, and light bloom effects are heavily emphasized to create a world with few shadows, where you are always being watched and identified and discovered.

Agatha and Anderton

Take this shot (right), for example. It’s so simple, yet so striking that even Roger Ebert had to mention it in his review. That’s Anderton and Agatha, one of the Pre-Cogs who has helped him escape by predicting what their pursuers will do, and yet is both physically and emotionally debilitated because of her constantly-drugged life. They see the world in completely different ways, which is visualized by them looking in opposite directions. They both need each other in order to win their freedom, to regain the healthy lives that have been denied to both of them by tragedy – and so they clutch each other tightly, but stare out at the dangerous world around them. We’re used to seeing pictures of two people hugging, where each will curl his or her head towards the other person’s as a show of affection. Through a simple change of head angle, Spielberg has made a familiar image new and urgent. And still beautiful.

I see two major issues that the movie seeks to provoke discussion about, and both are fascinating and timeless: 1) Which should a society be more willing to sacrifice in favor of the other, freedom or security? 2) If there exists a being that knows the future, is everything thus fated and does moral choice not truly exist?

Oh, and they rappel down from cool hovercraft that look kind of like a cross between Boba Fett's spaceship and a giant robot snail. And they have jetpacks.

A clear answer isn’t provided for the first one. As David Edelstein noted in his review, a future where all the murderers and rapists were apprehended before they killed and violated appeals to all that is good and compassionate and moral in us. Every time I hear of such a crime taking place, my heart cries a bit. It’d be wonderful to live in a big city where one could walk the streets night or day without fear of assault, where kids could play in the streets without parents having to worry too much.

But Precrime arrests people who haven’t technically done anything wrong…yet. Can we really know for sure what will happen? Do the Pre-Cogs dream of actual, fated events, or just of what might happen if the “future criminals” were to continue in their present mindset. Can they predict forgiveness, redemption, or even simply the triumph of conscience under duress? As to this, the movie seems to suggest that no, such certain knowledge of the future is not possible, at least not for humans. Plus, such a system would have to be controlled by someone, and think of the power that person would have! Final say on how to interpret visions of future crimes, and the ability to declare someone innocent or guilty regardless of what they’ve actually done. We know so well how much power corrupts…


  1. stevebetz says:

    I very much enjoyed Minority Report and think that it’s pretty under-rated as recent SF pictures go. Cruise gave a good performance (I’m not a big fan of his) and the SF elements were integrated without the FX trying to steal the show. Solid picture.

    1. David says:

      I’m not a fan of Cruise, per se, but he has delivered some excellent performances (I even found myself liking The Last Samurai despite its similarity to Dances With Wolves. My dad thought the ending of Minority Report was weak, but I’m fine with it. Granted, being isolated with some best friends in a beautiful, woodsy location where I get to read books all day sounds pretty darn good to me anyway…

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.