The late Stanley Kubrick, whose spirit has led a restless Steven Spielberg in midlife to rewardingly dark, hard crannies of dystopia and art, presides over the elusive futuristic thriller Minority Report like a ghostly, unpaid technical adviser. In the not-too-distant year 2054 conjured by Spielberg in this striking mirror image to last year’s ”A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” technology is as sleek and ruthless as anything in ”A.I.”’s Rouge City (or even in ”A Clockwork Orange”), while human connection is as shallow as any in ”Eyes Wide Shut.” The ability of government and commerce to scan every retina has led to a complete erosion of personal privacy, especially in security-conscious Washington, D.C., where the anxiety-inducing ”Report” takes place: The same electronic eye that can track a person’s whereabouts can also monitor spending habits and buying preferences, enabling advertisers to scream personalized pitches the way Amazon.com does already when it recognizes my log-in ID and says, ”Hello, Lisa. We have recommendations for you.”
In the world originally envisioned by cult-favorite sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick in his 1956 short story ”The Minority Report” (and scripted here by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen), not only is the present available for inspection but the future is too. (About the only thing Dick couldn’t have predicted was that in the future, no movie title would ever again begin with the antique article ”The.”) Armed with the visions of three psychic human ”Precogs” who can see a homicide before it happens — none more gifted or with more startling, underwater eyes than the sibyl played by Samantha Morton — members of the Justice Department’s elite Precrime unit can arrest the pre-perps. The populace has never felt safer.
Chief of the unit John Anderton (Tom Cruise) believes in the system fervently. He has to. Anderton uses his work like a drug, and when he’s not working, he uses drugs, too — some potent futuristic narcotic inhaler — to deaden the grief he carries years after the disappearance of his young son. Reporting to his boss, the stately Precrime proponent Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow), Anderton is a one-man crime buster, no mission too impossible as he intercepts his not-yet-killers. It makes no sense then, when the system spits out his name as a murderer-to-be. If, as he suspects, this premonition is a lie, the doing of an ambitious rival (Colin Farrell), he must now reject the convictions that have heretofore sustained him and prove that the future isn’t, in fact, preordained.
That, at any rate, is Dick’s part of the story. Meanwhile, in the future envisioned by Spielberg (wrapped in an intimate aesthetic and psychological hug and headlock with the shade of Kubrick), cold, shiny new technology fights for dominance over the comforting old ways of American never-never land. But since Spielberg isn’t beholden to finishing something Kubrick started, you can guess which values win out. The mechanical beauty and android possibilities of the future excite the filmmaker, and that’s where ”Minority Report” becomes an alluring postcard from the edge. But it’s an edge over which Spielberg never seems to want to step.
For better or worse, in temperament and in caution, the artist famous for producing images of an imaginary American present so powerful that they create instant nostalgia can’t help himself from coming home to familiar yearning. What’s exciting about ”Minority Report” (and abrasive, too, in the way of a good scrubbing) is the movie’s relentless demonstration of technological convenience inextricably entangled with a profound invasion of privacy. What simultaneously drags us back to the antirevolutionary present are the filmmaker’s sentimental journeys (usually of a boy toward his lost parent, this time of a dad toward his lost boy), and his reiterated images of idealized everyday domestic life.
Spielberg and his longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski make both the high-tech and low-tech future look exquisite as ever, using a lot of the same eerie filters that bleached and crystallized the mood of ”A.I.” But they identify the ”best” values with the least futuristic, most traditional, and most warmly lit landscapes of thriving green plants, warm wood architecture, and handsome furniture.
At the crux of it all — speaking of android possibilities and handsome furniture — there’s Tom Cruise. Any Precog worth the fluid she’s suspended in knows that Cruise would be drawn to this story for the opportunity to play a character so close to his own persona.
Anderton, an alloy of human parts and superhuman willpower, is meant to be most appealing when he exposes his grief. But watching the star run his machinery so energetically for his director, there’s something even more fascinating, weirdly so, about the creative instinct that pushes an inscrutable actor like Tom Cruise to follow ”Vanilla Sky” with another indictment of his own closed, pretty face in the service of a particular director’s personal vision.
And there’s something auspicious, and daring, too, about the artistic instinct that pushes a majority-oriented director like Steven Spielberg to follow ”A.I.” with this challenging report so liable to unnerve the majority.