Minority Report

English Title: Minority Report

Country of Origin: USA

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox

Director: Steven Spielberg

Producer(s): Walter F. Parkes , Jan De Bont

Screenplay: Scott Frank, Jan Cohen

Cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski

Art Director: Seth Reed, Leslie McDonald, Ramsey Avery

Editor: Michael Kahn

Runtime: 145 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction

Starring/Cast: Max Von Sydow, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell, Tom Cruise

Year: 2002

Volume: American - Hollywood

Minority Report adapts a Philip K. Dick short story set in a future Washington, DC, of 2054. Three brain-damaged teenagers (pre-cogs) have the ability to foresee murders with perfect accuracy. A ‘pre-crime’ unit is set up to take advantage of their ‘pre-cognition’ of ‘yet-to-happen’ murders, and it is legally established that the police can imprison anyone for a meditated murder based on these pre-cognitions. The unit leader John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is assembling images lifted from the ‘pre-cogs’ to discover who will do the murder. The cops fly out and catch the ‘soon-to-be’ perpetrator. The would-be murderer is electronically lobotomized and jailed. Several years before pre-crime, Anderton’s own seven year old son was abducted. After consulting with the ‘pre-crime’ unit creator, Lamar Burgess (Max Von Sydow), Anderton is astonished to discover that the pre-cogs have visualized his own future act of killing. He flees. After changing his eyes he kidnaps the ‘pre-cog’, Agatha (Samatha Morton) and confronts a man supposedly involved with the son’s abduction. The man commits suicide framing Anderton for murder. He is now captured and incapacitated. Fortunately his ex-wife (Kathryn Morris) engineers his liberation. The audience already knows that Burgess has killed an FBI agent (Colin Farrell). The movie ends when Anderton confronts Burgess.  

With this film, Spielberg proved his ability to time his entrance into history yet again.  The script, and the main elements, had been locked in before the attacks on September 11th, 2001. Nonetheless, the American reaction to those attacks set up the reception of the film nine months later. The legislative response was the PATRIOT act, which capstoned on-going government efforts to short-circuit process and rights in the name of security. This real world law inspired the extrapolation to a future where people are incarcerated for thought crimes. That Spielberg and Cruise presciently framed this story to have this moral issue revealed how much the PATRIOT mentality was already present in Americans and was already apparent to the filmmakers, before the attacks.   The public problem of the film is whether justice is more important than eliminating fear.
At one point in the film a pre-crime cop replies to a mother with a belligerent, ‘If you don’t want your kids to know terror, keep them away from me’. His combination of American fear and swagger exposed the then current state of cyber-age security anxieties. It was a mantra for the future. The near ‘already-here’ future was fully represented in the production. Pre-production financed a two week seminar and the sets that came out of that seminar were a severe sociological comment.  Minority Report depicted a Washington D.C. where space was dominated by to advertising and every movement of the citizenry was monitored by commercial forces. Indeed the advertisers knew where Anderton was before the police found out.  
This was a dark vision, and it throws a particular light on Spielberg’s feel-good style that critics have complained about ever since his triumph with E.T. in 1982.  E.T. was a very sentimental film but it was not a Disney-like whitewash of American life. The anomie of the Sunbelt suburbs was very evident in the early Spielberg films and his sentiment was for individuals, not for the culture itself. But in the 1980s, audiences ignored the suburban desert that Spielberg depicted in order to embrace the sentiment he indulged towards a little boy longing for a companion. Now in a time when three times as many Americans are in prison as when E.T. was released, sentiment is receding and darkness is gaining even in the vision of America’s most popular film director.
Darkness had come to be a recurring motif in American blockbusters of the 1990s. There are such digital apocalyptical stories of survival as Terminator 2 (1991), Independence Day (1996), The Matrix (1999) and many others. What separates Spielberg from the younger generation of action film directors is his lack of nihilism. He has to find a satisfying resolution that goes beyond mere survival, and his writers do so in the perennial Spielberg motif of the guilty father redeeming his family. As John Anderton uncovers the flaw at the heart of pre-crime policing, he renews his marriage and gains the hope necessary to becoming a father again. The resolution of the marriage is Spielberg’s climax; the political decision to junk the experiment in pre-crime policing is an afterthought. The private resolution of the public problem is typical of Spielberg films and particularly noteworthy in his historical films. Minority Report fits in as a historical film along with Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005) and Schindler’s List (1993). It is easy to criticize Spielberg’s happy endings but that begs the question of whether nihilistic survival stories can ask the audience to think about darkening trends in the same way as Minority Report.

Author of this review: Frederick Wasser