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Minority Report

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Jan
Minority Report

from Film Forum, 02/07/02

June brings us Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, a sci-fi action flick based on a Phillip K. Dick short story about a cop who can anticipate a killer's crimes. What's he to do when he himself becomes implicated in a crime that has yet to happen? The film costars Colin Farrell (Tigerland) and Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown, Jesus' Son.) Spielberg seems obsessed with exploring human evil in the past and in the future. Sounds like the story could raise questions about our innate capacity for sin, and our ability—or inability—to save ourselves from our weaknesses. Hopefully he'll hold off on the sentimentality that shipwrecked A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) and Hook and show some of the mastery that made Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters of the Third Kind such classics.

from Film Forum, 06/20/02

Few critics will be able to discuss Steven Spielberg's Minority Report without bringing up Blade Runner. Both futuristic sci-fi stories came from the same author, Phillip K. Dick. And both artfully explore questions about free will, revenge, human arrogance, technology, justice, mercy, and God. As if in acknowledgement of that, Spielberg begins his film almost identically: with a deeply resonant bass note and the title of the film against a black screen.

But after that, the film takes new directions. This is not Blade Runner's bleak, dark metropolis. It's a spacious, bright, open city dominated by technology and information, one that seems far more possible. Washington, D.C., is quite recognizable. The spiffy sci-fi cars that crowd future rush hours suggest this is the same future we saw in Spielberg's last film, A.I. Artificial Intelligence. The hi-tech tools of Minority Report's world are clever, impressive, and so bounteous that they become almost too distracting. Example: Advertising follows the hero everywhere, and because sensors can identify him easily, each audio commercial appeals to his attention by calling out his name.

Our hero is John Anderton (Tom Cruise), a D.C. policeman in the newly established "pre-crime" unit. Pre-crime works like this: a special trio of psychics foresees upcoming crimes. Then the cops rush to identify and apprehend the crook-to-be before the crime occurs. The system seems perfect. It's not. It's a human construct and thus there's a flaw somewhere. Anderton learns this the hard way when he's named as a pre-murderer. He panics, and thus the film's tagline: "Everybody runs." At this point, the film becomes a futuristic version of The Fugitive, with Cruise as the runner, while Colin Farrell plays the Tommy Lee Jones part as his pursuer.

Does "pre-crime" sound implausible? Not really, as Jeremy Lott (who has written for Christianity Today and Books & Culture) points out in Reason. Right now U.S. leaders are debating the ethics of pre-emptive strikes against rogue nations that have the potential to attack us but haven't yet. How far should we go to ensure our own safety? Do we have the right to violently punish people when we are only somewhat certain they intend to do harm?

Reviews for the film will pour in this weekend, and we'll scan through them next week. It will undoubtedly cause Spielberg's fans and critics to debate with the same vigor that characterized conversations about A.I.

My full review is posted at Looking Closer. I came out of the sneak preview eager to see it again. This is Spielberg's most entertaining and exciting film since Raiders of the Lost Ark. After a long spell with ponderous "issue" movies and the burden of completing a Kubrick project, Spielberg seems positively giddy to be back in action-movie mode. His imagination runs circles around other sci-fi filmmakers, and the supremely gifted cinematographer Janusz Kaminski makes those ideas beautiful to behold. A.I., their last collaboration, seems dull by comparison. Yet, as the visual wonders fly past, Spielberg accomplishes something that George Lucas doesn't—he builds the movie on the firm foundation of his actors, giving them visceral, compelling interaction, and drawing strong performances from the whole cast.

Through it all, you can feel Spielberg's three personalities wrestling: Spielberg the Entertainer supplies the adrenaline rush. Spielberg the Artist wants to raise challenging questions and trust the audience to think for itself. But Spielberg the Communicator wins in the end, overexplaining the complicated plot and the mystery's solution for the slowest member of the audience. I love Spielberg's achievement here, but once again I feel somewhat insulted as the end credits pass by. Half of the fun of a good detective yarn is sitting there figuring out "whodunit" and why. Spielberg never seems to trust us to do that, so he fills in as many gaps as he can before it's over. This lessens our reasons for seeing it again. It also slows the film's locomotive momentum. This unfortunate anticlimax leaves us preoccupied with whether the resolution makes logical sense, instead of inspiring us to think about the larger ethical questions. And yet there's so much to enjoy throughout the film, these few false notes should be easy to forgive.

Differences of opinion are already popping up online. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) could hardly contain himself: "My mind was churning with amazement and curiosity. [The movie] blindsides you with its brilliance." Richard Corliss (Time) calls it "Spielberg's sharpest, brawniest, most bustling entertainment since Raiders … and the finest of the season's action epics." Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter) calls it "one of [Spielberg's] most compelling and entertaining films ever. He continues to push into new fictional terrain that is grittier, creepier, and edgier than the warm-and-fuzzy science fiction of his early career. Cruise … delivers one of his most controlled and suggestive performances."

"The film's success is in line with what American films historically have done best, which is to excitingly tell a strong story with high style and just enough substance," says Todd McCarthy (Variety). However, Minority Report may in the long run lack the resonance of Blade Runner and certainly 2001, because it is more prosaic than poetic, more concerned with narrative progress, precise predictions, and legalistic issues than larger notions of good and evil, fate and the grand scheme of things." And Scott Mantz (Moviemantz) says, "Minority Report is cold, convoluted and confusing. The story feels like it's being over-explained with too much information, and while everything does come together in the end, the effect of the payoff will depend upon how much moviegoers are able to retain along the way."

from Film Forum, 06/27/02

You probably know the premise of this week's box office champ—Minority Report—by now. Film Forum posted early reviews of the film last week. Suffice to say: Tom Cruise plays a cop who heads a prototype crime initiative in the year 2054 that uses psychic helpers to catch murderers before they commit crimes. But when he sees himself holding the gun in a projected murder scenario, he goes on the run, dodging his own team, to figure out if he has been framed, or if he is indeed a murderer. It's an action-packed sci-fi extravaganza, and the box office shows that Steven Spielberg still has the magic touch.

This week, religious press critics offered a wide array of responses to Spielberg's intense, sci-fi murder mystery, mostly positive. (My own review is at Looking Closer.)

Paul Bicking (Preview) complains that the movie includes "violent crimes … gruesome scenes [involving] a medical procedure … crude and vulgar terms." He concludes, "Minority Report doesn't get a majority vote."

But a quick scan through other religious press reviews shows that the majority is quite impressed indeed. A critic at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says, "Spielberg's direction is masterful. The narrative … presents issues of societal good at the cost of personal freedom, and the value of human life. The movie is also topical in questioning how far government should be allowed to go to protect its citizens from potential criminals, a front and center issue for Americans today." This reviewer also underlines the film's "spiritual flourishes." Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) agrees, calling it "a thoroughly entertaining thrill ride of a movie [that] provides much food for thought, especially along the lines of balancing the concept of predestination with that of free will."

Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says it's a "captivating, entertaining and unusual movie. I found myself wanting more when the credits rolled." She adds, "You'll be in the minority if you don't like this one!" (Ouch.)

Michael Karounos (Christian Spotlight) concludes, "While containing the inevitable Spielberg sentimentality, the film's conclusion argues for forgiveness over revenge, for mercy over justice, and for free will over determinism without being lugubrious. Literally and metaphorically, the film makes the argument that new eyes make for a new perspective … a clever polemic which will both entertain and provoke the viewer to think about metaphysical, philosophical, and political issues which have been and always will be important to our culture and to our faith."

Providing a sort of study guide, Dick Staub (Culture Watch) highlights points for post-viewing discussion: "There are numerous direct references to God and religion … but the real theological/philosophical grist is imbedded in discourses about concepts like foreknowledge, free will, and the essential fallenness and self-interests of humans."

Ted Baehr (Movieguide) says it has "a moral point of view" but he is critical of "problematic, adult moments." He concludes, "Older viewers might find this movie worth seeing more than once … [for] Spielberg's brilliant cinematic vision … and Tom Cruise's excellent performance, not to mention their fabulous supporting cast."

Phil Boatwright (The Movie Reporter) has one small gripe: "A hopeful, feel-good ending, which I normally support, seemed false and unsatisfying in a film that otherwise could be considered a masterpiece. Everything else works. The acting, the look, the effects, which are there to support the story rather than become it, and Steven Spielberg's direction, arguably the greatest film visionary in movie history."

Jeremy Lott (Relevant Magazine) offers a less enthusiastic response. He calls it "visually thrilling, surreal, exciting and ultimately a pale imitation of the Philip K. Dick short story on which the movie is loosely based. This disappointment comes because Steven Spielberg has profoundly misread, or creatively reread, Dick. While he faithfully reproduces some of the darkness and paranoia of Dick's vision, he confessed to Wired magazine recently that he thinks the story is about 'wishful thinking.' As such, aspects and subplots are added to make the characters more human and likable and the black humor of the story has been extracted."

Steven Isaac (Focus on the Family) also has small criticisms: "Don't expect Minority Report to explore the moral ramifications of its subject matter as much as A.I. did. This is much more a mystery than an exploration of the meaning of life." Isaac's favorable review includes a strong caution about "gore, violence, foul language, and sexual content. Not easy things to get around even when there is a good story to be told." He also points out a gaping hole in the plot (but that brings with it a large spoiler, so let the reader beware.)

Mainstream critics are offering almost unanimous raves. But there are a few guarded reviews in the mix. Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) says, "As impressive as this disturbing, even haunting film can be, it does not feel all of a piece. If anything, Minority Report is trying to do too much, trying to combine elements—philosophical, futuristic, hard-boiled criminal—that haven't been made to completely cohere. What is best, and creepiest, about Minority Report comes from Phillip K. Dick, brilliant at envisioning a future that's got us by the throat."

But Mary Ann Johanson (Flick Filosopher) joins the chorus of praise: "I'm dying to say this is Spielberg's best movie since Raiders, and it might even be true. It's got the thinky, soul-searching stuff of his recent films—like the unjustly unappreciated A.I.—combined with the gee-whiz popcorn fun of the Indy movies and the dinosaur flicks. In truth, Spielberg probably hasn't given us a film like this since Close Encounters."

from Film Forum, 07/12/02

Andrew Coffin (World) offers a review of Steven Spielberg's latest blockbuster, Minority Report, this week (Film Forum posted a variety of reviews a few weeks back). "Steven Spielberg is almost always, if nothing else, a compelling filmmaker," Coffin says. "[He] has been highly successful in blending pop spirituality and his own peculiar sensibilities with solid popular entertainment. Minority Report is no exception." But he also points out some weak points. "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."