A good Spielberg flick?

I entered the theater, skeptical about another film from Steven Spielberg. After all, I most recently remember having not been pleased by the slick, but impersonal A.I. a year back, and for that matter, not really remembering anything good from him since Schindler's List. But the buzz was mostly good, so I figured there was some hope for Minority Report.

And, let's start with that title, "Minority Report" - it sounds like a political documentary. I suppose the title is passable, works within the context of the movie, but I cannot help but find it a little misleading. As I've said before, titles are difficult in general, growing more difficult over time as all the best ones get used. The best thing to be said here is that you won't likely confuse this movie with any other due to a similar name.

On to the story...

In a relatively near future world, three precognitive people are kept in a tank to locate imminent murders so that law enforcement can stop them before they happen. Since the inauguration of the test program for Washington, DC, a perfect record has been trumpeted about and a critical vote will be held soon to make the program national.

And the "Minority Report" of the title? It's when one of the precogs sees a slightly different variation of the murder, generally suggesting there is an outcome where the murder wouldn't happen, even without prevention. Our protagonist, John Anderton, our lead cop for tracking down these potential murderers, learns of these minority reports when he finds the tables turned on himself as a suspect in the future killing of a man unknown to him.

From that setup, we explore many of the expected sorts of permutations of choices expected in this sort of movie. Rather than falling into a trap of familiarity, the filmmakers manage to balance character and emotion with the demands of a science fiction thriller. It's a very tough line to walk, and I have my doubts it can ever be done to my satisfaction. What a wonder it is to see an honest and skillful execution of this genre.

One of the coolest things about the movie is all the futuristic touches placed throughout. From computer user interface design to transportation modes to retinal scan surveillance in public places to personalized advertising to jet packs to tiny robots - there's a lot of speculation at work here, and a lot of it is actually pretty plausible, not just a camped up or rehashed vision of the future that everyone has seen before.

Tom Cruise has a decent performance in the leading role of John Anderton. The part needed a certain amount of restraint, similar to Eyes Wide Shut, in fact, and Cruise manages well enough, though the sentimental scenes are perhaps played up a little too much - but that's not necessarily Cruise's fault - but neither is there any critical flaw in the acting.

Minority Report is not without its flaws. There is a devastating key problem with the plot, whereby our protagonist, John Anderton, is still able to use the retinal scan from his eyeballs to access the headquarters of the pre-crime unit, after what seems all of law enforcement is after him. Nobody thought to de-activate his access? Sure it's not their number one concern, but a place which such a perfect record has procedures to follow, right? This bit kept bothering me, and I wondered why nobody picked up on it, or felt it could just be ignored. It would be easy enough to explain. The Director of pre-crime - Max Von Sydow, in fact - is always expressing his fondness for the Anderton fellow, and could have dallied with pushing forward the paperwork for a variety of reasons. No more than five to ten seconds of screentime could explain it, without dialog.

The more difficult question is how well this ability to foretell the future is handled. There are issues of free will and predestination involved here, and the concept of the "minority report" is hinting around them. The film misses an opportunity to explore these concepts in depth, choosing instead to concentrate on the political message of "any system can be manipulated". That's a fine message, but it could easily have stood aside some metaphysical explorations. The pacing is not so fast that a few seconds couldn't be spent here and there.

The waiting is over for a good film from Spielberg - this is one worth seeing. It just leaves us with the question of "how long until the next good Spielberg film?"

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Review: More than a few minor flaws star5/10 mastadonfarm

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