With the names Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise come certain preconceived notions, and even more still when the summer season release date is factored in. “Minority Report,” the long-awaited collaboration between the world’s biggest star in front of and and the most famous helmer behind the camera, manages to subvert most of these expectations in smart, suspenseful, and often surprising fashion.
Cruise is the above-the-title name and is the only image on the film’s one-sheet, but this future-set noir is no star vehicle. In fact, this is the only Cruise-starring picture in recent memory in which his megawatt persona truly disappears into the world of the film. It certainly helps that Spielberg wastes no time immersing Cruise and the viewer into the world of 2054 Washington D.C. and a new preventative brand of law enforcement there known as Pre-Crime. Cruise’s Chief John Anderton runs the unit, and the film hits the ground running as it shows how the police use the visions of a trio of psychics known as Pre-Cogs to stop murders before they happen. The system appears to be perfect, but a Justice Department operative named Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) has his doubts, and soon Anderton does himself, as the Pre-Cogs see the next murderer as being… John Anderton.
And so a “Fugitive”-style chase begins, bringing out the best of Spielberg’s renowned action thriller instincts. There are a number of stunning set pieces here that are worthy of making his all-time show reel, such as a chases on the wall-crawling freeway system and one that memorably ends up in a car factory. But the script by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen (working from the short story by Philip K. Dick) allows for more outré, unsettling and rather un-Spielberg diversions that do not interrupt the urgency of the story. As exciting as the money scenes are, just as, if not more, likely to generate post-film discussion are touches such as creepy and morbidly humorous sequences involving Anderton’s eyes–whether it be some scary business with retina-scanning spider-like robots or a “Clockwork Orange”-esque encounter with a black market eye surgeon (Peter Stormare).
As shown by these offbeat touches, “Minority Report” finds Spielberg still operating in the darker, colder Kubrick-ian milieu he initially tried out for size in last year’s A.I. The year 2054 is sterile in just about every possible way, from the cool, techno-slick production design by Alex McDowell to Janusz Kaminski’s disturbingly bleached-out cinematography. Tossed-off gags have uneasy implications, such as how the retina-identification technique is used rather amusingly for overly personalized advertising (though the obvious product placements tied to the jokes are annoying). The edginess marries with Spielberg’s more popcorn sensibilities a lot more easily this time around, making for a roller coaster ride with an unusual amount of grit.
The rush of the ride doesn’t last through to the end of the picture, however. After a spectacular and suspenseful climax in which a number of scattered fragments fall together with both surprise and puzzle-box precision, the film goes on for decidedly less absorbing final third. For its first two-thirds, “Minority Report” is quite the stunning pop achievement, a taut thriller that happened to have smarts and interesting ideas to spare. The final stretch is both overreaching and lazy, as the heretofore only hinted-at political issues that arise out of Pre-Crime are addressed, but only just to serve the superficial mechanisms of a contrived and conventional conspiracy plot. The setting may be futuristic, but apparently not too advanced that the shopworn cliché of exposing a dirty deed through a video recording isn’t out of the question.
Make no mistake, “Minority Report” resolves itself in perfectly watchable fashion, and how could it not, with Spielberg working his visual magic and the cast–which also includes Samantha Morton, Kathryn Morris, Lois Smith, and Max Von Sydow–all in top form. While a watchable finale is far cry from the greatness with which the film flirts for a considerable portion of its duration, “Minority Report” is still top-notch summer entertainment, delivering the requisite thrills while offering something a little more to chew on once it’s over.