MINORITY REPORT (2002) – 30+ Days Of Spielberg

Minority Report (2002)
Rated PG-13

(for 
violence, language, some sexuality and drug content)
Released: June 21, 2002
Runtime: 145 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow, Colin Farrell, Lois Smith, Tim Blake Nelson, Kathryn Morris, Neal McDonough, Steve Harris 

Available to stream on Netflix or rent through Amazon Video, iTunes, and most VOD platforms.

Day 23 of “30-Plus Days of Spielberg”

Following A.I.: Artificial IntelligenceMinority Report finds Steven Spielberg in a strong Kubrick afterglow.

Ready to amp up the action without diminishing the philosophical debates, Spielberg’s second sci-fi film in a row dives into a nearer future. Set in the year 2054, it’s the closest thing to Blade Runner that he’s ever likely to make (which is fitting since this, like that Harrison Ford classic, is based on a Philip K. Dick short story).

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With heavy doses of Hitchcock and even weird splashes of David Lynch, Minority Report is sci-fi noir. It was Spielberg’s most straight-up suspense thriller since Jaws. It’s also a murder mystery, mixed with a Fugitive-like “man on the run” hero trying to prove his innocence. And while not a 9/11 parable in any way, the film’s core themes broach that tragic event’s first major ripple effect: pre-emptive strikes.

At two-and-a-half hours and packed with action, style, and brains, Minority Report is a movie that never drags. Tom Cruise flexes both muscles and range in a complex narrative, one firing on all cylinders and fueled by some really spectacular set pieces.

Dadgum, this is a helluva movie.

It’s mid-21st Century Washington D.C., there hasn’t been a single murder for six years. That amazing statistic is all thanks to the Department of PreCrime, a branch of the capitol’s police force that has developed a system to predict murders before they actually happen.

Through it, law enforcement agents arrest and imprison would-be killers before their potential victims can be harmed. With a staggering success rate of 100% for over a half-decade, the system has been been perfected both operationally and legally.

Now, PreCrime is on the verge of going national.

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It’s fascinating to see how it all works. Along with the police swat squads, the system also incorporates a live patch-in with two judges. It’s all stages of the judicial branch neatly condescend into a single operation.

The chief law enforcement officer is Captain John Anderton (Tom Cruise). He processes and prosecutes every arrest within the system, one that has been seriously thought through. With a built-in forced accountability, the Department of PreCrime guarantees that it can operate within Constitutional parameters while also avoiding Orwellian overreach.

But of course, the system has a dark side.

First and foremost, there’s the most obvious issue: PreCrime arrests, convicts and sentences people based on a prediction of their actions, not on actual murders. (It’s a thorny ethical dilemma that the film actually does a credible job of arguing in favor of.)

The other big issue is the the source of the predictions themselves: three humans. This trio of twin males and one woman gained extra-sensory psychic powers following a scientific experiment that went awry. They’ve never been wrong.

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When they are joined in PreCrime’s technology, these PreCogs (short for Pre-Cognitives) are able to see murders in detail before they happen, often days in advance. The PreCogs, however, can’t see other violent crimes like rape. Despite the brutality of other non-lethal assaults, the end of a life is the only thing that will trigger predictive visions for the PreCogs.

That’s a lot of setup, and yet Spielberg dispenses it all with fascinating, entertaining clarity.

And that’s when the story’s real hook kicks in: Cruise’s Capt. Anderton — i.e. the chief police officer who has made every single PreCrime arrest — pops up as the killer in one of the PreCog visions, murdering someone that Anderton has never even met before. It’s riveting to watch as it all unfolds, particularly as momentum builds toward the seemingly inevitable murder.

Further complicating the mystery: the climactic crime goes down at the peak of the second act, not the third, sending the narrative into a new, more complicated direction that spirals out down the final stretch.

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Suffice it to say, the problem is bigger than a bug in the system; it’s something more sinister. As impossible as it seems, someone has actually rigged the system, and Anderton’s been set up.

Having been “proven” guilty, it’s up to Anderton alone to get to the truth. He takes on this daunting task while being hunted by police and federal agents for a murder that he hopefully won’t commit.

The moral dilemma works on several levels.

At first, it may seem that there’s not much to debate. It seems self-evident that we shouldn’t arrest people for murders they haven’t committed. To do so would be fundamentally wrong.

But that 100% drop in murders is hard to argue with.

That success rate then raises a counter moral argument: if we can eliminate murders with absolute certainty, then don’t we have a moral obligation to implement the very system that achieves it?

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But what of the PreCogs themselves?

To utilize their gifts requires an inhumane solitude. In order to be operational, the three PreCogs must be constantly quarantined, 24 hours a day, unable to live anything close to something that resembles a normal life.

Compounding that inhumanity is the fact that, by the very nature of their visions, they are psychologically and spiritually burdened as well. They experience everything they predict. As a result, each PreCog is haunted by the intimate intensity of every murder they foresee.

It’s tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment, but it’s for an altruistic “greater good.” In order to ignore the necessary evil that it requires, Anderton says at one point, “You can’t think of them as human.”

In short, the core ethical debate is a simple but very difficult moral question: Utopia, but at what cost?

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The characters are complicated in their own right. Anderton, for example, is a hero and crusader to the masses, but he also struggles with a secret drug addiction that began after the loss of his son, who was kidnapped.

That tragic event led Anderton to lead the PreCrime initiative; it’s also torn him apart, as well as his marriage. Scoring a narcotic hit is the only way he’s found to ease the pain. Despite having faithfully executed the demands of his job with moral integrity, his tormented soul does make you wonder: is Anderton capable of murder?

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In terms of genre, Minority Report may be sci-fi on the surface, but it’s Film Noir at its dark, seedy core. That combo makes for Spielberg’s edgiest effort, complete with illegal drugs, gruesome violence, and occasional sexual proclivities found in corners of the city’s underbelly.

The characters fit classic noir archetypes. Anderton is the morally-compromised gumshoe, framed by an unknown perpetrator who may have roots in a government conspiracy. Samantha Morton‘s Agatha (the female PreCog) puts a tragic spin on the femme fatale in a performance that’s criminally underrated. It’s a heartbreaking turn, one that must have left Morton absolutely exhausted every day, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

For Cruise’s part, it’s one of his all-time best (yet also criminally ignored). A wide range of scenarios require an equally wide range of nuances, all rooted in a would-be murder that causes Anderton to run an emotional and moral gamut. Cruise can flat out act with the best of them.

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The rest of the cast is pitch-perfect, including Colin Farrell and Max von Sydow, but a particular highlight is character actress Lois Smith. Her one scene, which comes right at the film’s halfway mark, is crucial to the plot, but it’s unforgettable because of what Smith does with it. She plays Dr. Iris Hineman, the co-inventor of PreCrime. Now retired, Iris is a sweet grandmotherly senior…but with an eerie, deviant edge.

Anderton goes to her for clues and possible answers. During the course of their meeting, Iris unpacks vital backstory before revealing a possible loophole — a.k.a. the titular “minority report” — and Smith delivers it with a strange, hypnotic charisma. She caps the whole scene with a, um, “goodbye” that you’d never see coming (Anderton sure doesn’t).

Minority Report is also a standout effort by Spielberg’s perennial cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. He creates a visual texture that works as equally for the sleek, clean, highly advanced metropolis of Washington D.C. as it does the city’s dark, dank, sleazy corners.

And the climatic standoff (there’s always one in a noir) is shot and framed like something straight out of the 30s or 40s. Stark lights create stark shadows; some even form art deco patterns.

Kaminski strikes artful compositions, too, most notably a close-up of John and Agatha. As they embrace, the shot frames their heads in a symbiotic union. The symmetry of that image is beautiful and, given the emotion of the moment, breathtaking.

Kaminski also reels off a few patented Spielberg Oners. One favorite: an overhead “see-through” tracking shot of an entire apartment complex. It involves the choreography of multiple actions, visual effects, and precise timing. Several other Oners are more subtly staged, like an early elevator confrontation between Cruise’s Anderton and Farrell’s federal agent.

Oh, and Spielberg throws in some pointed satire, too, about the saturation of advertising and marketing. Now nearly twenty years after the film’s release, it’s probably not surprising that what Steven and his team of futurists had predicted for 2054 already looks familiar in 2020 (and, quite honestly, has been common for the past few years).

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For all the intricate, clever plotting, the final climactic turn does revolve on an errant (and convenient) slip of the tongue. It’s a cop-out in a plot that, otherwise, is flawlessly dense, but it’s also a minor, forgivable one. By the time it happens, we know where this is going. We’re supposed to. That’s all part of how Spielberg ratchets up the suspense. And so, instead of belaboring the reveal, Steven utilizes a classic genre staple (the tongue-slip) to expedite the inevitable.

Despite its financial and critical success, Minority Report has become one of Spielberg’s hidden gems. It has intelligence, style, and intensity. And from Anderton’s arc to Agatha’s tormented soul, it also delivers a whirlwind of emotional pathos that more summer movies should aspire to.

Plus, it confronted an issue that may have been the most relevant of its time. Back in 2002, just as the Bush administration was preparing to invade Iraq as a preventative measure against what Saddam Hussein may have done in a post-9/11 world, Minority Report tackled the notion of “pre-emption.” It’s an issue still worth chewing on today as various crises may tempt us to cede our liberties to acts of government overreach.

So before you plop down money for yet another obligatory franchise sequel (or other money grabs of its ilk) – stop! Rent Minority Report instead.

Available to stream on Netflix or rent through Amazon Video, iTunes, and most VOD platforms.

NOTABLE TRIVIA

  • This was Spielberg’s first film since 1941 (other than the Indiana Jones movies) to be shot in the wider-screen 2:35:1 aspect ratio. Starting with E.T., Spielberg shot his films in the less-wide, rectangular aspect ratio of 1:89:1, the same frame size as an HDTV. No specific reason for this differential is known, but the shift to 1:89:1 back in the 80s was likely due in part to the advent of home video and “pan-and-scan” visual cropping. By shooting in 1:89:1, less of the original image needed to be cropped out to fit a square TV, the universal screen shape prior to the HDTV era.
  • The three “PreCogs” were all named after famous mystery writers. Dashiell HammettArthur Conan Doyle, and Agatha Christie.
  • Three years before filming began, Spielberg assembled a team of sixteen “future experts”. Together, they brainstormed what technology would look like in all aspects of modern society in the year 2054.
  • The action sequence in the car factory is based on an idea that Alfred Hitchcock had for North By Northwest, but had been unable to shoot.
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  • Prior to this film being made, the short story on which it is based was almost produced as a sequel to Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s Total Recall, with the setting moved to Mars.
  • In Philip K. Dick’s original short story, John Anderton is short, fat, and balding (essentially, more like how Tom Cruise looked in the comedy Tropic Thunder).
  • Spielberg’s version was almost filmed right after Saving Private Ryanbut decided to put the script back into rewrites. Before making that delay, Spielberg had decided to cast Cate Blanchett as Agatha, Matt Damon as Witwer (the role that would go to Colin Farrell), and Ian McKellen in the role eventually played by Max von Sydow.
  • Cruise’s Vanilla Sky director Cameron Crowe makes a cameo appearance as a train passenger reading a newspaper. Cameron Diaz, Cruise’s co-star from that 2001 film, sits behind him.
  • This was Spielberg’s first film for 20th Century Fox.
  • The film’s title doesn’t appear on-screen until the end credit roll.

12 thoughts on “MINORITY REPORT (2002) – 30+ Days Of Spielberg

  1. I think I enjoy your trivia as much as the reviews. Definitely one of Spielberg’s under-appreciated film, and the last one he made that I unequivocally liked. Too bad Cruise became his foil for a bit there, as I agree that this was head and shoulders above his normal performance.

    1. Yeah, opinions are definitely mixed on Cruise’s acting ability (even before his 2005 Crazy Train spell). For me, though, I’ve not only always had great respect for him as an actor but generally feel he’s really underrated. So performances like this one don’t surprise me; they just confirm what I already feel about his level of talent and range.

  2. Afraid I can’t agree about the plot being “perfectly constructed”. The first-act exposition establishes the rules of the game and then the rest of the movie utterly ignores them.

    Supposedly, the whole pre-cog thing works on the principle that if you see something is about to happen, you can act to prevent it. The act of seeing a future murder creates a ripple effect (or butterfly effect) that can prevent the murder from happening if the ripples (the cops, etc.) get there in time.

    By that logic, John Anderton’s future murder should have been undone the moment Anderton *saw* it. The ripple effect had very little distance to travel, because the supposed murderer was *right there*. But instead, the film tells us that seeing the future murder *caused* the murder to (almost) happen.

    And then there’s the question of how someone could *conspire* to make the future murder happen. If the pre-cogs are simply seeing the natural end result of cause-and-effect (that is, the result that would have happened before the pre-cogs started the ripple effect), then how would someone set up a murder that could only happen *as a result of* the ripple effect? Supposedly, the conspirator told a man to put a bunch of photos on a bed somewhere. How does *that* trigger the pre-cogs, if Anderton was never going to be in the bedroom without the pre-cogs setting in motion a chain of events that put him there?

    There’s some beautiful futurism and/or social satire here, though.

    1. I definitely see the whole construct differently than you do, in large part because I don’t think it all must somehow follow a particular logic as you laid out (or as anyone might lay out). You say “by that logic” as if it’s the only possible ripple effect, when the whole point of the movie is the concept of the “minority report”, i.e. infinite possibilities.

      But even the minority report concept aside, fundamentally, I don’t agree that there is only one mathematical cause-and-effect equation once a particular bit of knowledge is gained. More philosophically, another layer of the whole movie is this idea of Pre-Destination vs. Choice which is being explored; are certain things destined regardless of what we do or don’t do?

      Then beyond THAT, I think the simple metaphor Anderton demonstrates to Weitwer with the rolling ball serves this question well. Basically, the ball is going to roll and it is going to fall, and PreCrime is simply the hand that “catches” and stops a murder before it drops.

      Yes, it’s a bit more complicated when it’s Anderton viewing himself as the culprit (a luxury all other murders don’t have, particularly since they’re not even planning on murdering because these are crimes of passion; pre-meditation has been eliminated in this PreCog world). Even so, I don’t think the only line of possible logic is that seeing the future murder *caused* the murder.

      Basically, you’re restricting cause-and-effect to a linear time frame. The metaphysical pre-cognitions, by their nature, transcend linear time, they’re above and outside of normal time and space, so to keep logic within time and space is too reductionist, I think. The PreCogs have a God-like power (another theme/idea of the movie), and so the “logic” of that kind of power can’t be confirmed or disproven by linear logic.

      Shoot, even in our linear world, the results of our actions often aren’t what we intend. The movie is challenging our whole notion “control”.

      1. Actually, it is *precisely* the rolling-ball metaphor that the movie betrays by saying that the pre-cogs can actually *cause* what they predict, and that regular people can somehow (though it is never explained how) cause the pre-cogs to set in motion the chain of events that results in what they predict.

        When Anderton sees himself committing the murder, he is the ball *and* the hand. That’s complicated enough. But then the movie adds this extra layer of complication by saying that a third party (a non-transcendent party!) did something that caused the hand to *roll* the ball instead of catching it.

        The “minority report” concept, as I understand it, merely relates to the multiple possible futures that the pre-cogs see. It refers to the way our possible futures branch off from our one-and-only present. (Time is linear in the past and present, yes. The future is non-linear only because it hasn’t happened yet.) The “minority report” concept has no bearing on the mechanics of cause-and-effect themselves.

  3. SPOILER ALERT POST:

    Right, I agree that the “minority report” concept has no bearing on the mechanics of cause-and-effect themselves, but it does reveal that the mechanics don’t always follow predictable, controllable, or assured cause-and-effects. There’s more than one possibility – or, more to the point, we can’t necessarily control possibilities, even with knowledge, or self-knowledge. We *may* be able to control, but it’s not a guaranteed outcome even when we’re conscious of it

    Also, the movie isn’t saying or suggesting that pre-cogs can actually cause what they predict, but simply that *the human operators* (i.e. Anderton) who view their visions can be tricked through how the pre-cogs operate.

    Regular people aren’t causing the pre-cogs to do anything or set anything in motion. SPOILER ALERT They are committing murders by replicating past ones (which can be viewed on file) so that the humans (Andertons) who view those replicated murders think they’re seeing a repeating glitch and not a new murder. The pre-cogs just do their thing, and the non-transcendent party simply sends the pre-cogs an image that they know the human observers will dismiss. The non-transcendent party has figured out a way to trick the other non-transcendent party, but the pre-cogs themselves aren’t being tricked and controlled. They’re just an image delivery device.

    Now as it relates to Anderton being the ball and the hand. I’d have to go back and rewatch exactly how things go down, but my perception is that the non-transcendent party is setting the ball (Anderton) in motion, not Anderton himself.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a paradox at work here, there is, but it’s god-like and working outside space and time (like, say, The Holy Trinity does) and so I don’t think we can confine it to space and time.

    In addition (and most importantly, I believe), the movie isn’t using that paradox to explain new levels of science or metaphysics but simply – through science FICTION – to explore ethical and moral questions. I don’t believe the film is required to explain or validate its paradox (I mean, there’s so much here that’s asking us to suspend disbelief, starting with PreCogs even being possible). The paradox is simply being used here, in fiction, to ask and ponder a What If?

    1. Oh, I wasn’t even thinking about the replicated murder(s). I was referring only to the person that Anderton sees himself murdering.

      Anderton ends up meeting that person *because* he saw himself murdering that person, which gets the whole cause-and-effect things backwards. If Anderton had not seen himself murdering that person, he would never have run away from his colleagues and into the situation where he ends up (almost) murdering that person. *That’s* what I mean when I say that the pre-cogs caused what they predicted.

      So the question is how the non-transcendent party tricked the pre-cogs into showing Anderton something that Anderton would never have done if the pre-cogs hadn’t shown it to him. As far as we know, the non-transcendent party simply told a man to put some photos on a bed somewhere at a certain point in the future — but surely *that* wouldn’t have been enough to trigger the pre-cogs?

      To put this another way: the non-transcendent party’s plot hinges *entirely* on the predictability of cause-and-effect. He could only have planned all this if he had known that seeing the future *causes* it rather than *prevents* it. But that, according to Anderton’s opening speech, is not how this is supposed to work.

      1. MORE SPOILERS:

        Ah, okay, sorry, I see what you’re saying now.

        I don’t know if this will suffice for you, but according to Scott Frank, the screenwriter, the PreCogs aren’t necessarily seeing/predicting set events (aka the Minority Report possibilities), and therefore things don’t entirely hinge o the predictability of cause-and-effect.

        Sometimes the future is set (and so no MRs), sometimes it’s not (MRs). Either way, the future event doesn’t need to “be staged” or predictable, it needs simply to be set in motion. Once you set events in motion that could lead to a murder, the PreCogs will pick up that possibility. And so, by simply hiring this man to pose as Leo Crow, Burgess has set events in motion. Once those events were set in motion, they created the possibility of what the PreCogs forecast.

        Here’s a quote from Scott Frank:

        “Burgess knew that the only person Anderton would, without hesitation, want to kill would be the man Anderton believed had taken his son. Therefore, all Burgess had to do was ‘hire’ Leo Crow — a lowlife child molester already in prison — to pretend to be this man with the promise of paying his family a large sum of money in return. In the backstory, Burgess would then start to arrange how Anderton might come into contact with him. But he doesn’t even have to go that far, because once Burgess starts his plan in motion, the precogs will immediately see the END result — the precogs will pick up that Anderton will confront the man who took his son and kill him. It plays out differently in the actual room because Anderton, unlike the people he’s arrested the past six years, has actually seen his own future. So he can change it. And he does. Or tries to.”

        In other words (I think), Burgess was pre-meditating Anderton’s act of murder for him.

        One additional thought: theoretically, Burgess could have made previous attempts to set things in motion that didn’t lead to a possibility of murder that PreCogs would foresee (there may have been some trial and error involved), but he eventually landed on an attempt that did.

        1. That’s an interesting quote from Scott Frank, but I don’t think I buy it. Whatever method Burgess might have had in mind to put Anderton in contact with Crow, it is highly *highly* unlikely that it would have led to the exact same moment, in the exact same room, with everyone standing in the exact same position as what the pre-cogs saw. From the moment Anderton witnessed himself committing the murder, the future should have started changing, but that’s not what the movie shows us.

  4. But that’s the thing: Burgess and Crow never staged anything, so nothing was replicated exactly. All Burgess had to do is set things in motion by renting the room, hiring “Crow”, and telling Crow what he wanted to have happen. It just so happened that he was able to set the *right* actions in motion to create that possible outcome, and that possible outcome is what the PreCogs saw, not anything that was ever staged. It was pre-meditated, sure, but the plan itself was enough – just like the plan itself would’ve been enough in *any* case of pre-meditated murder that the PreCogs would see a future vision of.

    As far as things needing to have started to change once Anderton saw the future, I don’t get why you think that’s an absolute must. Sure, they could, but why would they necessarily need to? Also, there is the whole philosophical notion of self-fulfilling prophesies. In this case, to solve the mystery, the best possible way to do that was to go to the scene of the crime, at the time of the crime, so it was self-fulfilling by Anderton’s own intention.

    Even so, the future actually does change. When Anderton’s watch strikes zero, he still hasn’t shot Crow yet (despite there not having even been a minority report for this incident). Anderton instead tries to arrest him. Then Crow commits suicide by violently forcing Anderton to shoot him, making it look similar to the PreCog vision. But again, the future did change.

    1. It has been a long time since I saw the film, but my recollection is that various details in the pre-cogs’ vision came true *exactly* as Anderton arrived at the moment of decision, so the replication was pretty precise. It was, indeed, the replication of all these elements that made the temptation to go through with the murder all the more potent, as I recall; it seemed to have been predestined, so who was Anderton to stand in the way of fate?

      As for things changing the moment Anderton saw the future: See what I said above about the “ripple effect” that flows out from the pre-cogs towards the future crimes that they see. In Anderton’s case, the ripples didn’t have far to travel at all, and once he became *aware* of that possible future (a future that supposedly would have happened if the pre-cogs and the people using them had not become aware of it), the mere fact of his awareness would have changed his actions and all the other actions that followed.

      As for self-fulfilling prophecies… well, the whole *point* of the pre-cogs is that their visions *prevent* the things they saw from coming true (except in cases where the visions arrive too late for the “ripple effect” to reach the scene of the crime before it happens).

      But I’m not sure we should expect philosophical coherence from Spielberg. I still have weird memories of a bonus feature on the A.I. Artificial Intelligence DVD where Spielberg tried to say something profound about being attached to a toothbrush, or something like that, and it made no sense at all.

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