There have always been two Steven Spielbergs. The Oscar-prone Spielberg directs serious, important films like “Saving Private Ryan” that bear the mark of a highly skilled director. The fun Spielberg directs things like “Jurassic Park,” well-made but populist fare.
The two Spielbergs fought with each other in “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” and that film had the scars to prove it. But now Oscar Spielberg and Fun Spielberg have made peace, and they have collaborated on “Minority Report,” a movie that is as thought-provoking and visionary as it is flat-out entertaining.
In 2054, there has not been a murder in Washington, D.C., for six years, thanks to the new Department of Pre-Crime. A decade earlier, a trio of super-clairvoyant youths emerged who could see murders before they happened. The police department has harnessed their powers, and under the direction of Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise), squads of pre-crime officers can track down the murderer in time to stop the killing.
The would-be killers are still punished for their crimes, which is why Washington’s program is controversial. None of the “victims” is actually killed, because pre-crime always rescues them in time. One side says that because of this, the murderers aren’t murderers at all — only attempted murderers, which is a lesser crime. Anderton and his crew say that because the psychics’ predictions are always flawless, they can know for a certainty that had they not arrived in time, the suspect WOULD have killed his victims. Stopping him from doing it doesn’t mean it wasn’t going to happen.
The glitch comes when the “pre-cogs,” as they are known, predict a murder committed by Anderton himself. The victim is someone Anderton has never heard of. He can’t imagine himself killing anyone, but he also can’t imagine the pre-cogs being wrong. Is his destiny fixed, or can he change it?
He is on the run, then, fleeing from his own detectives, and the film, which was already steadfastly compelling, kicks into high gear. It is often apparent that Spielberg is as delighted by all the futuristic science and gadgetry as we are, and he’s used everything in his director’s bag o’ tricks to bring this story to life. Lighting, set design, camera movement, film stock, editing — every element of film, under Spielberg’s imaginative eye, has been manipulated to make the film as dazzling to look at as it is to follow. Visually speaking, it is without question Spielberg’s best movie.
There is a good deal of symbolism involving eyes, sight and vision that gives a literary weight to the proceedings. Cruise’s performance, as well as those from Colin Farrell as a government-appointed inspector and Max von Sydow as head of the Pre-Crime Department, are solid. There are also nice turns from Tim Blake Nelson as a sort of prison warden, and Lois Smith as the discoverer of the pre-cogs.
Things go a bit astray in the end. What began feeling like more than just a popcorn flick evolves into, sure enough, a fairly standard detective story. The revelations of various evil-doers and their motives is nowhere near as ingenious as the first two-thirds of the film would have led you to suspect. Maybe Fun Spielberg won the last argument and brought us back down to the banal again, just in time for the finale.
Nonetheless, there is genius to spare, particularly from veteran Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, whose swooping cameras and grainy colors combine with the engaging story and acting to make this, overall, one of the year’s better films.
A- (; )