An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Minority Report (2002)
PUBLISHED: 14:47 07 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:47 07 September 2018
Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Minority Report; dir: Steven Spielberg; Starring: Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Max von Sydow. Cert: 12 (2002)
It’s difficult to imagine a mainstream giant like Steven Spielberg being eligible for consideration in an alternative film selection but Minority Report is an astonishingly good film and one which appears to have been forgotten as Hollywood’s most successful director becomes increasingly eclectic in his film output.
In many ways Minority Report works as a belated companion piece to Ridley Scott’s dystopian epic Blade Runner – in fact both stories are adapted from work by science fiction author Phillip K Dick. It shares a similar world view to that earlier classic although the setting is a little closer to our age.
As you would expect with Spielberg it is a brilliantly realised film – it exudes a sense of dangerous reality which many science fiction ignore in favour of hi-tech gizmos, shiny spaceships and hover cars. The fact that the setting is so ordinary, so suburban in many ways, gives the film a very disconcerting air.
There is a sense of foreboding which permeates its way through the film. Spielberg pays attention to the detail and in so-doing makes the more fantastical elements of the plot seem perfectly plausible.
Tom Cruise is a modern policeman. He doesn’t solve crime. He prevents crime. Thanks to a rare breed of clairvoyant, specially-bred visionaries who can predict future events, Cruise’s Pre-Crime Unit can arrest the perpetrators of serious offences before they happen.
Technology has been created which can tap into their precognitive abilities but unlike his pal George Lucas, Spielberg isn’t dazzled by the technology, he’s worried. Minority Report asks the big question if you arrest someone before the crime has been committed can you be sure that the so-called guilty party would have gone through with the act or would he have stepped back from the edge just in time?
Because Spielberg makes us believe that this situation is real, we, as an audience, are concerned with these moral dilemmas. These concerns are raised higher when Cruise’s top cop John Alderton is identified by the all-seeing ‘pre-cogs’ as a future killer.
Suddenly, Cruise has to go on the run from his own police force, forcing himself to experience the other side of life, quite literally seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Meanwhile, a national investigator, played by Colin Farrell, wants to see how far the system can pushed and takes over the hunt for Alderton.
Cruise’s police chief knows that the only way he can clear his name is to gain access to the ‘pre-cogs’, shocked by their treatment, he kidnaps Samantha Morton’s Agatha and becomes aware that this isn’t some random, unfortunate hic-cup with the system, he was framed and now he is running for his life.
Spielberg sets the action in 2054, not too much of a jump from our own time, and emphasises that Minority Report is science fiction not science fantasy. We need to sit up and take notice. We need to pay attention. It’s not about shiny robots or vast space battles. It’s about how own tomorrows here on Earth.
At times, the details of daily life seem chillingly close to home. Futuristic technology has been woven into a recognisably ordinary world. What was a leap of faith in 2002 – Tom Cruise going into a department store, having his retinas automatically scanned, then the display advertising is targeted to his tastes and shopping history – is now frighteningly real.
This isn’t science fiction as escapism; it’s science fiction as social and political commentary. It’s a wake-up call, asking us to decide what sort of society do we want to live in and what do we want to bequeath to our children.
On the face of it, ‘pre-cog’ technology seems fine, laudable even. There has been no murder in Washington, where the schemes has been trialled, for six years, and yet identifying criminals by prediction poses some serious questions about justice, free-speech and free will.
Visually the film is stunning but it is the moral complexity which really grabs out attention. Also, it re-affirms that given the right material and a top-notch supporting cast, Tom Cruise can be a great actor.