Tom Cruise in a Steven Spielberg film: Hollywood’s top-gun leading man, ever boyish, brash and overachieving, takes us on a cineplex roller-coaster ride designed and built by the modern master of melodrama and adventure. But if you keep your eyes wide open as these two boys of the summer blockbuster plunge you into the futuristic chases, fights and escapes of Minority Report, you might glimpse signs of something deeper.
Cruise has taken control of his career and piloted it to his patented star image. For most of the nearly 30 feature films he’s appeared in over the last 20-odd years, he’s played the self-assured, all-American winner that many of his fans probably believe he actually is. But in 1999, Cruise began to alter his course to take a darker, more uncertain path less traveled. In both Magnolia and Eyes Wide Shut, Cruise made the risky business decision of playing characters that were essentially out of control. His Chief of Precrime, John Anderton, in Minority Report is a marriage of these opposing sides.
Cruise is a brilliant master — or more suitably, maestro — of detection. Within the darkened control room of the Precrime department, he mounts a small stage with the bravura of an orchestral conductor. But Anderton, like Spielberg, conducts the playing of images, not music. With data-gloved hands rather than a baton, he “scrubs the images,” directing virtual reality projections of a murder that has not yet occurred, but inevitably will, into patterns that allow him to divine where it will take place so that it can be prevented.
The instruments that play these visions are three “precogs,” human mutants accidentally born with the sense of precognition, the ability to see the future. Agatha (Samantha Morton, Sweet and Lowdown) and the twins Arthur (Michael Dickman) and Dashiell (Matthew Dickman), clad in white bodysuits, float in a womblike triangular pool. Their heads are wired to conduct the murderous visions they receive into Anderton’s control room. Though Anderton prefers to refer to them as “pattern recognition filters,” their digitally recorded forethoughts unwrap the blindfolded eyes of justice: The precogs function as an ironically nonjudgmental tribunal of 21st century oracles. The Precrime staff calls their seat of prophecy “the Temple.” Anderton acts as their high-tech priest, seeing rather than hearing the confessions of the killers the precogs channel. Upon apprehension of a would-be murderer after a SWAT-like Precrime raid, the chief administers penance with a “halo,” a metal headband that places the guilty in a state of suspended animation for safe warehousing. Anderton’s a true believer in little else besides the Precrime system.
Though Cruise’s top cop exhibits the derring-do of his Mission: Impossible super spy Ethan Hunt, his workaholism — and other obsessive compulsions — oozes up from a psychic wound that hasn’t healed in six years: the kidnapping and murder of his cherished young son. Anderton recites fatherly lines by heart as he replays home holograms of the little boy while sucking down a synthetic narcotic, Neroin, from an inhaler.
Soon Anderton begins to lose control over his department as federal agent Witwer (Colin Farrell, Hart’s War) insinuates his way in, investigating the validity of precrime. When the precogs show the chief as the next murder perpetrator, his life goes into a tailspin and the chase is on.
Screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight) doesn’t so much base his screenplay on Philip K. Dick’s short story as use it as a springboard. Frank and co-writer Jon Cohen weave a shimmering plot of science-fiction high adventure and police procedural over melodrama, then manage to give it a heart that appears to be philosophical: The underlying issue here is human free will.
Spielberg gives us much more than a future theme-park ride. His direction gives us a futurist’s view of the logical progression of today’s culture of high-tech marketing and surveillance. Eyes — of justice and even Oedipus — are his running visual theme, as well as the clash of technology and humanity.
The report here is good: Minority Report is one of the best science-fiction movies in years and definitely the best Dick adaptation since Blade Runner (1982).
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].