|Minority Report (major spoilers)
Trailers (yours may vary): XXX, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Solaris, Daredevil, K19: The Widowmaker
Starring Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow
Rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content.
I saw this one on Sunday, but I've had a hard time writing a review. Mostly because there is so very, very much crammed into this movie--and, more to the point, not all of it works.
However, that's not something you notice until the movie's over--or at least until the interminable series of endings starts up. But we'll get to those in a bit. Minority Report was terrific in the theater--the opening sequence, involving a crime of passion Tom Cruise has 12 minutes to stop, in a house that he can't find--is painfully suspenseful. I'd forgotten that this is the same director who brought us the original Jurassic Park, with its raptors in the kitchen and T-Rexes in your face, so I was surprised that so many of the sequences were such nailbiters. I'd grown to think of Spielberg as the King of Saccharine, totally forgetting about his earlier films, and--well, between Tom's escape across the vertical highway and the fight in the Lexus factory, Spielberg brought me back up to speed, we'll put it that way.
Speaking of that vertical highway, the future of Minority Report is the most com-pelling thing about it--mostly because it's supremely plausible. Cameron Crowe's USAToday (yes, that was Cameron Crowe, by the way) updates itself; already the USAToday website does that. Tom has clear panes for computer monitors; we now have the flat screen monitor, something I didn't think we'd ever see. And the interactive advertising--look, I have a big enough horror of cookies in my temp-file cache to assure you that yes, advertisers already follow us around and tailor their ads and websites to what they know about us. Give all these elements fifty years, as the movie does, and I'm telling you--it's frighteningly within the range of possibility. On one hand, Minority Report shows us, the intrusion equals a safer, quicker, more convenient way of life. On the other hand, it's a way of life that won't ever shut up, or forget who we are and what we' ve done. (Just ask John Ashcroft.)
The second most compelling thing about Minority Report is the tangle of ethical and philosophical questions it raises. Which is where the problems (and the overkill endings) start, because the film asks far more than it answers. Which would be fine, except the movie seems to have forgotten it asked the questions in the first place. I mean, are you honestly trying to tell me that Washington, D.C., would allow any law enforcement agency, experimental or not, to "halo" people and lock them away with out so much as a formal sentencing, much less a fair trial? And then, at the end, when all the criminals, guilty or not, are released, is that supposed to make us feel better? What about restitution for the innocent? (People, this is a real-life issue that DNA testing has brought up!) AND WHAT ABOUT THE GUILTY?? The Tom Cruise voiceover nonchalantly mentions that the police "track them for a while" just be safe, but--WHAT THE HELL? I mean, that's a fascinating concept for a movie--what happens when you have to let those people go? Minority Report is barely interested in that idea, however.
Hang on, I'm just getting warmed up. The more I thought about the movie, the more it seemed to unravel. Ponder, if you will:
1. The Max von Sydow director character is cleverly given a motivation for wanting to protect the Pre-Crime organization: he gets off on the adulation and the publicity ("Everyone wants a hat with your name on it--will you sign?"). Only, that autograph session at the end of the movie is not only the first time the issue's been raised, but it's the only one in which the man isn't actively chasing away reporters ("I don't WANT to talk to USAToday!") or piously bemoaning the sad but motivating the loss of Anderton's son. So where did this publicity-hound thing come from?
2. Also, as for Anderton's dream of preventing similar losses, his son was kidnapped. Pre-Crime, which only focuses on murder, wouldn't have been able to do so much about the son's subsequent death (hell, we're not even sure what really happened to the kid, though I'm personally pretty sure the freak killed him), especially if the kidnapper took the kid outside the D.C. area. But they're going national, right?
3. Pre-Crime is going national? Who is going national? Are there other pre-cogs? If not, what happens when Agatha and Dashiell and Arthur eventually die? And if not, are they going to have to foresee all the murders in the entire country? Because I'm not sure Agatha (Samantha Morton) is handling her current workload all that well.
4. Speaking of the pre-cogs, Anderton's future crime would have been one of passion, not premeditation--particularly considering that he didn't even find out who the guy was until a few minutes before he met him. But wait a minute--how does he meet the guy? By searching for the mysterious guy he doesn't know that the pre-cogs say he'll kill. Therefore this whole "cop on the run" Mobius-strip device could never have happened, because the pre-cogs wouldn't have seen a crime of passion three whole days in advance.
5. How can Anderton and his ex-wife use his surgically removed eyeballs (ewwwwwww) for the retina scan to prove his identity if the retina scan ought to alert the cops to aforesaid identity?
6. How the hell did Anderton not get killed in the red Lexus at the factory?
7. Why would the Gap pay Spielberg (as did the other advertisers mentioned in the film) to put its clothes on Samantha Morton when those clothes are ass-ugly?
And so on. Quite frankly, none of this occurred to me at the time (well, the Lexus factory and the ugly clothes did); the only thing that really bothered me (besides a horrific eye-surgery scene--sorry, I have what psychologists call "an eye thing") was the orgy of endings. Of course, I adore Run Lola Run and hold Brazil as the gold standard of dystopian trick endings, so maybe this is just how my taste runs. The first two endings--Anderton can choose his own destiny! Oh, wait--predestination gets the last laugh after all!--are brilliant; you can use both or keep only the first one, and it still leaves your brain humming.
And then Spielberg keeps going with the whole Anne Lively plot thread, which is fine--once introduced, sure, we need to resolve that. And to Spielberg's--and screenwriter Scott Frank's--credit, the final Anne Lively story holds water (pun unintended), and gets bonus points for actually involving Agatha and the Pre-Crime department, as opposed to some random victim (the killer's ex-wife or unrequited love or best friend's dog or whatever). Then it gets those points taken away because the von Sydow character, while having been shown to be personally invested in the future of Pre-Crime, is shown to be nothing but sympathetic and compassionate prior to the end of the movie--neither grasping nor cutthroat. And then--why, why, why did we have to dig up that old Playing the Incriminating Evidence Before an Unsuspecting Crowd to Clear the Hero chestnut? Granted, the von Sydow's final choice to split the difference between killing Anderton and discrediting Pre-Crime is somewhat inspired, but when you think about it, discrediting and disbanding Pre-Crime is the only choice the filmmakers have. Because when you boil it down, the concept of stopping crimes before they happen (which is, admittedly, quite attractive) on the slim evidence of three psychics (which is shown to be rather easily tampered with) and then locking the "future criminals" away without any sort of legal proceeding not only stomps on the Constitution, but has a vague whiff of fascism about it. Spielberg can't champion that kind of future; it's practically un-American. But the problem is, those considerations are so briefly and lightly mentioned, if at all, that we're left just feeling sorry that Tom's out of a job and all those criminals are out running loose again and that the murder rate in D.C. is going to skyrocket back up again.
(Oh, and Tom and the wife got back together and are gonna have another baby. This, and Samantha Morton's "this house is so full of love" speech, combine for an injection of sentiment that I felt was unnecessary. I mean, sure--hint that Tom and the wife get back together, show them holding hands or something. But for him to beamingly rub her ultra-pregnant belly in a world that's now filled back up to the gills with crime? I can tell the filmmakers thought that one through all the way.)
Long story short, the multiple endings at first made me dizzy with the complexity of the ideas and possibilities Spielberg was throwing out at us, as if the predestination issue was getting squared, maybe even cubed, in its resonance by the other issues. Then they just made me dizzy.
There are also characters that don't blend too well--what the hell was up with Peter Stormare the quacking backstreet eye surgeon? It didn't help that they ran the Austin Powers 3 trailer (featuring "the mole in Dr. Evil's organization"--a guy with a giant facial mole), and then the surgeon's assistant turns out to be... a crazy blonde woman with a giant facial mole. And the spastic virtual reality peddler--I'm telling you, these people came from entirely different movies, and I don't want to see what-ever movies those were. (Speaking of the VR guy, they practically lifted the concept of that whole sequence from Strange Days, an interesting take on the virtual-reality-as-illegal-drug idea that doesn't try to bite off quite so much philosophical territory to chew.)
Which is sad, because in the theater, Minority Report is a fabulous movie--I would go see it again, full price, in a moment. You still have Colin Farrell playing an admirably consistent jerk-ass, whether he's on Anderton's side or not (although there's a scene where the moron ought to be muttering "Rollo Tomasi!" with his last breath), and Lois Smith has a single scene as "the mother of Pre-Crime" that steals the movie right out from under Tom Cruise. (Props to Smith for impulsively kissing a non-plussed Cruise, doing exactly what most women in America would also have done in her place, sense be damned.) And the sequence where Agatha, peering just a few minutes into the future, guides Anderton through a crowded mall and away from the cops is just magical in the way it choreographs suspense with the giddy collisions of fate. There is so much to love about this movie that the flaws kill me. The successes of Minority Report are great enough to make it a fantastic movie, but the flaws are too glaring to make it a classic.