The film, based on a Philip K. Dick pulp science-fiction story about a future police force that solves and then prevents murders before they happen, has been turned into a riveting journey through a densely imagined future world. And it's the product of a filmmaker whose technical prowess and storytelling genius can seemingly carry an audience anywhere -- even those darker, deeper places some may want to avoid.
"Minority Report" doesn't really play like a personal Spielberg picture. It seems more a Cruise movie that the director may have taken on because he liked the story and wanted to work with the star. But he's made it his own through sheer style. Like his last sci-fi film, last year's Stanley Kubrick project, "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence," "Minority Report" fuses the director's moviemaking expertise and sunny, can-do personality with a chillier, more pessimistic, far less populist vision. It's a sci-fi thriller that races like a Porsche, looks like a hundred million bucks and hums with menace -- with Cruise in the middle as a wounded, alienated, super-buff hero in a classic film-noir pickle.
The film is brilliantly realized on almost all levels, a showcase for some of the best movie technicians in the world. Full of visual shocks and cinematic razzle-dazzle, this picture tears along with breathless speed and bravado from one virtuoso set piece and staggering futuristic forecast to the next -- from high-speed chases in magnetic cars to nightmarish visions of social decay to eerily graceful speculations on advanced gadgetry, higher-tech commercialism and bizarre precognitive crime-fighting.
"Minority Report" has more visual ideas per scene than any five average movies out this year. But it's also a picture that convincingly questions our sense of justice, that stirs up prickly social and personal fears, plunging us with icy intensity into the fractured reality and constant danger that was Dick's specialty -- and hasn't been this well-realized on film since the 1982 cult classic "Blade Runner."
A nightmare in overdrive -- like "The Bourne Identity," but far more elaborately realized -- "Minority Report" needs all of Cruise's superstar charm and intensity to ground us in its razzle-dazzle imagery. Giving the movie his best lean, mean, athletic style, Cruise delivers in the role cop-turned-fugitive John Anderton, a star detective with a tragic past who's accused of a murder he'll commit in the future and targeted by a citywide dragnet run by his old partners.
Cruise's Anderton is an anachronism, a descendant of Humphrey Bogart in "Dark Passage" and Ray Milland in "The Big Clock," trimmed, toned and living in a gaudy "Clockwork Orange" world. Chief investigator for a Pre-Crime division that infallibly predicts future murders -- a tormented, relentless cop driven by the memory of his own son's kidnapping and disappearance in the years before Pre-Crime -- Anderton gets sent on a wild chase where, in typical Dick fashion, all his sureties are undermined and everything in his world completely reversed.
The original "Minority Report" is far from the best Dick material. Published in 1956 in the somewhat trashy sci-fi magazine "Fantastic Universe," it was a near-typical product from the years when Dick was living the routine of a young, wildly prolific hack. But while it was obviously one of his rush jobs, a story he couldn't sell to the classier magazines "Galaxy" and "Astounding," it's brilliantly conceived all the same -- and the movie adds amazing visual embroidery and fantastic new extrapolations.
Dick's specialty was creating elaborate future worlds and twisting them inside out, ripping the ground from beneath his characters' feet and flipping them from one fragile reality to another. His ingeniously subversive notion here is that, in the future, murder has been all but eliminated -- at least in Washington, D.C. -- through the use of "Pre-Cogs": three clairvoyant misfits who can visualize slayings before they happen. In the movie, their visions are projected onto glass-screen video files for the Pre-Crime Unit to solve -- and the film begins with a smashing suspense scene (shot by Janusz Kaminski in eerily desaturated colors and explosively edited by Spielberg's secret weapon, Michael Kahn) where Anderton uses these files to locate and try to intercept a crime of passion in Georgetown.
Afterward, the filmmakers quickly and easily sketch in the complex background.
Pre-Crime, the brainchild of eccentric scientist Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith, the servant girl in 1955's "East of Eden") and stoic agency founder Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow), has been Anderton's super-cop arena for years. But while he gets all the glory, the Pre-Cogs (short for precognizant) are freak seers hidden away from society. Misfits immersed in sealed-off watery tanks in a mazelike security building and guarded by nerdy caretaker Wally (Daniel London), they've been puckishly given the first names (only) of three legendary detective-story writers: Arthur Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett and Agatha Christie. (Samantha Morton, in another impassioned performance, is the feverish, achingly vulnerable, shaven-headed Agatha.)
The system seems foolproof, but it may not be, as Anderton discovers when his own name turns up listed as the next killer, with a projected victim named Leo Crow, of whom he's never heard. Suddenly, like Harrison Ford in "The Fugitive," he's in full-throttle flight, racing through that meticulously imagined and visualized future world, battling rocket-clad fellow cops, jumping through a windshield in a magnetic car as it races sideways alongside skyscrapers.
Anderton's main nemesis is Colin Farrell (the firebrand of "Tigerland") as Danny Witwer, a smug FBI official who's observing and evaluating Pre-Crime before an upcoming referendum on a possible countrywide adoption of the concept. And Anderton's possibly dubious allies include his emotionally ravaged ex-wife, Lara (Kathryn Morris); his hearty ex-partners, Jad and Fletcher (Steve Harris and Neal McDonough); nasty jail guard Gideon (Tim Blake Nelson); sleazy underground doctor Solomon Eddie (Sweden's Peter Stormare); and his benevolent mentor, Burgess, played by von Sydow with admirable cunning and courtliness.
Spielberg and his screenwriters (Scott Frank, Jon Cohen and several uncredited hands) start "Minority Report" off with a bang, and they never let up. If you're left wondering at times why certain pieces of evidence aren't pursued, how possible frame-ups are being executed and why this society imprisons the potential killers in huge glass tubes instead of trying to rehabilitate them (all inventions of the moviemakers rather than Dick), the movie's breakneck pace and awesome visuals tend to sweep you along despite the questioning.
There's barely a scene that doesn't contain something extraordinary, some smashing piece of extrapolation or playful satire, whether it's mechanical spy spiders scuttling through a fetid near-flophouse in search of a fugitive, or the way Anderton manipulates Pre-Cog files on the glass screen like a rapt symphony conductor, or the murderous visions of the Pre-Cogs that unspool like a constant loop of monochrome horror.
Decades ago, "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" definitively established Spielberg as a master of optimistic "feel good" science fiction. "Minority Report," like "A.I.," shows him as a master of the dark side as well: an expert weaver of scary visions of moral uncertainty and mortal peril. It's worth remembering that, however much Ridley Scott's movie is now revered, "Blade Runner" was a commercial and (mostly) critical flop. But that won't happen to "Minority Report." The storytelling and Cruise's star turn are too compelling, the visuals too overpowering, the ensemble cast too expert and offbeat.
"Minority Report" may show both director and star working at their professional peaks, but I don't think it's as good as that underappreciated masterwork "A.I." It's not as resonant and daring, not as full of magic and marvel. Spielberg stretches himself technically here but not emotionally. Even so, I think this movie definitively elevates its director -- if he wasn't there already -- to the all-time upper echelon of science-fiction filmmakers, along with Kubrick, Fritz Lang, Andrei Tarkovsky, Terry Gilliam and Spielberg pal George Lucas. Science fiction isn't an easy genre to master in film -- and it may be even harder when your source is as rich, wild and strange as a Philip K. Dick story. But Spielberg, as always, makes it look like child's play.
Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Scott Frank, Jon Cohen (and, uncredited, Frank Darabont, John August); based on the short story by Philip K. Dick; photographed by Janusz Kaminski; edited by Michael Kahn; production designed by Alex McDowell; costumes designed by Deborah L. Scott; music by John Williams; visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic; produced by Jan de Bont, Bonnie Curtis, Gerald R. Molen, Walter F. Parkes. A 20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Pictures release; opens Friday, June 21. Running time: 2:25. MPAA rating: PG-13 (violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content).
Detective John Anderton -- Tom Cruise
Director Burgess -- Max von Sydow
Detective Danny Witwer -- Colin Farrell
Agatha -- Samantha Morton
Gideon -- Tim Blake Nelson
Dr. Solomon Eddie -- Peter Stormare
Dr. Iris Hineman -- Lois Smith Jad -- Steve Harris
Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune Movie Critic.