With "A.I.," Steven Spielberg was trying to conjure the spirit of the late filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Through the use of spare emotion, minimal attention paid to typical audience pleasing moments, and a chilly mood, Spielberg almost achieved a perfect replica. With the new picture "Minority Report" (IMDb listing), it would seem that Kubrick is now trying to conjure Spielberg. "Report" is a strange bird, and has little in common with other typical summer blockbusters. However, it works well, and it's simply wonderful to see Spielberg in charge of a tightly wound popcorn movie again, though in his words "Report" is more "gourmet popcorn."
It is the year 2054, and murder can be prevented. In Washington, D.C., an experimental program called "Precrime" is in full swing. Through the use of a trio of sequestered psychics (called "precogs"), cops, led by Detective John Anderton (Tom Cruise), are able to see when a murder will occur in the future, then have enough time to go out and prevent it from happening. It is a perfect system, that is until federal agent Witwer (Colin Farrell, "Tigerland") comes snooping around to question the program's merits. Hurting from the loss of his son, and a drug habit that's slowly catching up to him, Anderton is suddenly confronted with an accusation himself, as he is seen as the next murderer to be apprehended. Anderton escapes, and with the help of the most powerful precog (Samantha Morton, "Sweet And Lowdown"), has only 36 hours to find the person he's going to murder, a person whom Anderton hasn't even met before.
"Minority Report" is based on the short story by Philip K. Dick, the author whose work was the basis for 1982's "Blade Runner" and 1990's "Total Recall." "Report" and the other two movies share a paranoia and thirst for the vivid future, filled with fantastic cars, towering cities, and commercial product advertisements on every conceivable empty space. But what "Report" doesn't share is the other two films' brain-tickler plotting. "Report" plays out like a massively expensive, futuristic episode of "Law And Order," as the film is more of a whodunit than the gargantuan action bonanza promised by the advertising materials. The story is engrossing, as any competent mystery should be, but due to the film's excessive length (140 minutes), emotional beats and basic plot momentum get bogged down for the film's final movement. Since there is no bang to the climax like the "Deckard is a replicant" ending to "Blade Runner," or even the "it was all the implant" twist in "Total Recall," "Report" flames out hastily, quickly deflating the promise the initial two hours hold.
What does impress me about "Minority Report" is the return of the fun Steven Spielberg. This is the Spielberg from the "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" days, when nothing pleased him more than gigantic adventure set pieces. With age, Spielberg seems less than convinced in his own glee, but "Report" has such majestic platters of pure filmmaking to behold that it brings back the goosebumps long since forgotten by the master filmmaker. Anderton's escape from the Precrime facility is a movie highlight. Taking up a sizable chunk of the film's second act, this sequence really primes the summer thrills pump in what is a decidedly more cerebrally minded "Report," yet also permits exploration and enjoyment of the ingenious world that Spielberg and his master craftsmen have created. We watch as John leaps from car to car in the middle of a gravity defying traffic jam, as he uses the Precrime department-issued jetpacks to thwart capture, and as he ends up in a car manufacturing plant, blasting away his pursuers with a "pulse" gun, and finding his way to the manufacturing floor, in a set piece eerily reminiscent of the droid factory in "Attack Of The Clones."
This "Mousetrap" style of filmmaking is what Spielberg was born for, but in his quest for artistic nirvana (the masterpiece "Schindler's List," the slightly less triumphant "Saving Private Ryan," the misfire "A.I.," and the poisonous "Amistad"), Spielberg's pretensions often get the best of him. While "Minority Report" is pretty far removed from the narcoleptic charms of "A.I.," the Kubrick touches from that tribute still remain in Spielberg's bloodstream: There's the use of classical music as Anderton tries to decode the precogs' visions and very specific framing that looks as if days went by before they got it right. The film is emotionally handicapped, as the chilly filmmaking cannot allow any real tears to be shed. Spielberg even goes so far as to include a "Clockwork Orange" homage during a scene where Anderton gets some rather macabre work done on his eyes. The Kubrickian excesses don't detract from the film, but it weighs down the film lover's heart to see Spielberg continue to chase the Kubrick dragon when he only focuses on the benefits of this aesthetic choice and doesn't recognize the detriments.
The dazzling look of "Minority Report" is assisted by longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who has rendered the large, expansive "Report" world in a blue-tinted grain. It looks wonderful and unique, and supplies a curtain for the special effects, as this photography and post-production tinkering hide all the seams of the effects.
While billed as a Tom Cruise movie, Mr. Cruise is actually part of a large ensemble this time out. He's backed by a cast of wonderful actors featuring Samantha Morton (who's absolutely sublime in a very bizarre role), Colin Farrell, Lois Smith, and the master, Max Von Sydow. Each actor finds themselves a wonderful corner to fill in this winding story, and while the Cruise performance isn't his best, the actor makes a smart move and often relies on this impressive supporting cast to get him through this tough, consistently evolving motion picture.
Filmfodder Grade: B+