THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Steven Spielberg has been responsible for more great movies than perhaps any other filmmaker in history: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones pictures, The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan. A lot of people didn't like A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, but I thought it was a masterpiece. This summer, Spielberg adds another feather to his cap in the form of the brilliant sci-fi thriller Minority Report. It's clear that the director is in peak form and an ambitious mood.

Based on a story by author Phillip K. Dick, the film takes place about fifty years in the future. Washington, DC is pioneering a new form of law enforcement called Pre-Crime. Murders can now be predicted by three psychic people known as "pre-cogs," who are hooked up to electrodes and placed in a liquid chamber to have their visions recorded. The Pre-Crime unit analyzes the psychic visions and stops the murders from taking place. The would-be killers are then placed in a cryogenic-style chamber. Because of this groundbreaking technology, the murder rate in the city has been almost completely eliminated.

Tom Cruise plays Det. John Anderton, one of top cops in Pre-Crime. He believes in the system wholeheartedly, especially since, had it existed earlier, it might have prevented the kidnapping and murder of his young son. Anderton works closely with the administrator of the program, Burgess (Max Von Sydow). A referendum to take the program national is about to be put before the American public on voting day, and an investigator from the Justice Department comes to DC to "look for flaws" in the program. He is Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell). His presence makes everyone defensive because they all have such faith in the system.

Things change after Anderton has a surprise encounter with one of the pre-cogs. Suddenly, it is foretold that he will murder someone in 36 hours. Anderton doesn't even know the person he is supposed to murder, and assumes he is being set up. He runs from his colleagues, embarking on a journey to clear his name and prove that Pre-Crime is fallible after all.

Tom Cruise plays a wrongly-accused cop on the run in Minority Report
The chase makes for some spectacular action sequences, including a sequence where everyone has rocket packs strapped to their backs. If Minority Report were just an action movie, it would be a damn good one. But Spielberg is working from an outstanding screenplay by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen that also wants to be provocative and thoughtful. The theme of the film has to do with civil liberties: How much is society willing to sacrifice for safety? Do we turn over some of our rights for the greater good? If so, at what point do we draw the line? Witwer suggests that it's morally wrong to arrest people for murders they haven't actually committed. Anderton counters that just because Pre-Crime stops them from happening doesn't mean they weren't going to happen. The movie explores this argument from every angle, constantly analyzing the different benefits and costs. All the while, it encourages the audience to actively think about it.

I liked the intelligence level of the film, and I liked the futuristic settings too. Spielberg has imagined a future that is quite possible. Cars not only run on roads but on the surfaces of buildings and bridges too (all of the scenes with the cars utterly fascinated me). Advertisements are not just everywhere, but they are also interactive. There's a scene where Anderton walks though a building and the ads actually speak to him. And, of course, the idea of preventing crime by predicting it is awesomely compelling.

As Anderton, Tom Cruise has found yet another perfect role. What I admire about him is that he's the biggest star in the universe, yet he's not content to coast on his fame. Cruise constantly seeks out interesting parts in ambitious films, from Jerry Maguire to Magnolia to Vanilla Sky. He is not afraid to give Anderton some flaws, to make him less than perfect. Cruise's scenes with the pre-cog Agatha (Samantha Morton) are especially riveting, as both actors convey the weight involved in proving Pre-Crime's flaws.

I have left out a lot about Minority Report because the story twists and turns and surprises you in many different ways. It just wouldn't be fair to give anything away. I was totally absorbed by the movie for its entire 145 minutes (which races by quickly). Spielberg has not just infused the movie with action and intelligence, but also with grace and elegance. I love the mysterious beauty of the pre-cogs, the way the names of murder victims and killers are engraved onto wooden balls that roll down tubes whenever a crime is prophesied, the washed-out cinematography of Janusz Kaminski that creates a gritty, surreal feeling. All of these things enhance what is already an intensely gripping story.

Last month, I participated in a poll conducted by the Online Film Critics Society to list the 100 greatest science-fiction movies of all time. Since Minority Report wasn't out at that point, it was not eligible for inclusion. If it had been, I would have cast one of my votes for it. This is one of the best sci-fi movies ever made.

( out of four)

Minority Report is rated PG-13 for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content. The running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes.

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