Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Wishy-Washy Future Is Nothing To Report Home About: Minority Report

The Good: Interesting concept, Interesting characters
The Bad: Direction, some acting, Thematically repetitive
The Basics: Steven Spielberg directs Tom Cruise in a middling film about a future where crimes are prevented by foreseeing them and stopping them before they happen.

Somewhere along the line, I began to associate Philip K. Dick with L. Ron Hubbard. Both science fiction writers seem to lend their work to big movies with lots of people running around in a world that looks nothing like what anyone would currently guess the future would look like now. As a simple example, in Minority Report (which was based on one of Dick's short stories), there is a sweeping, huge highway system throughout Washington, D.C. that would never have the funding to be built by today's Highway Departments.

Minority Report is set in the near future where crime in Washington, D.C. has been eliminated through the use of psychics and an advanced system wherein police arrest criminals before they commit murder. The head of the Precrime Division is John Anderton, a deeply scarred, drug addicted police officer who is very good at his job. He has effectively eliminated murder in Washington, D.C. and his system seems to be flawless. However, as Precrime prepares to go national, Anderton finds the office under investigation by a Justice Department investigator named Witwer. When the Precognitives (the psychics in charge of sensing the future murders) foresee Anderton committing a murder, Anderton starts to run, believing Witwer has set him up.

This little opus by Steven Spielberg is an unfortunate example of where special effects films go wrong today. In the pursuit of being bigger, faster and more, the directors somehow manage to forget "better." As a result, Minority Report is a chase film filled with quick shot images, fast camera moves and other jerky visual elements that keep the viewer off their toes and missing much of the rather large world being created to tell the story in. Thus, the first viewing of the film may inspire a headache or at the least bafflement as so much happens on the screen so fast it's near impossible to catch it all the first time. This is especially disappointing considering what an accomplished director Spielberg is; one might think he would like people to see the canvas he is painting on, but instead this piece substitutes creative endeavor with flash.

While the characters are interesting, some of the problem with the film comes down to the actors. Colin Farrell plays Witwer, the Justice Department investigator who is hunting Anderton. While Anderton tries to exonerate himself, Witwer gains access to all the same data. Farrell fails to portray Witwer in a menacing enough manner that the viewer actually believes he is the villain setting everything up. As a result, it's hard to buy any of Farrell's scenes, save his final one.

Similarly, Tom Cruise, who plays Anderton does nothing to differentiate this role from his Mission: Impossible persona. All he does is run, jump and defend himself. Cruise brings nothing to this role that is not in the script, not in the short story. He's become, in this context, something of a generic action hero and in Minority Report, the viewer wants something more.

In contrast, Anderton is an interesting character. He is fleshed out well with his backstory; he joined the Precrime program in its infancy when his son was kidnaped. He has some complicated relationships, with his estranged wife and the head of the Precrime Division, Burgess. The character's desperate attempts to prove himself make the film watchable.

Ultimately, the problem with Minority Report is that it wants to be a temporal thriller while being an engaging chase film. When certain fundamental principles are put into place, the film loses its edge. For example, the Precognitives predict that Anderton will commit a PREMEDITATED murder of a man he doesn't know. Given that fact and the supposed infallibility of the Precognitives, it is no surprise when the could-be climactic scene arrives. As well, the theme of predestination versus free will becomes rapidly and excessively beaten into the viewer.

In the end, that was what pushed me over into the "not recommend" camp; Minority Report is an average film that tries to be new, different and cutting edge and instead ends up beating the viewer over the head with some rather elementary concepts, making it visually difficult to watch and auditorily failing to stimulate enough to keep the viewer engaged. If you want fair science fiction where everything is handed to you, this is a fine film. I, however, know you can do better.

For other movies featuring Colin Farrell, check out my reviews of:
Horrible Bosses
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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