The Future Is Noir
Crime prevention versus civil liberties, a topic of increasing concern after the 9/11 tragedies, receives provocative attention from Steven Spielberg in Minority Report. Set in the year 2054, Spielberg’s dark futuristic thriller stars Tom Cruise as a detective in charge of a sophisticated police program that identifies potential murderers before they kill their victims. For his first attempt at film noir, Spielberg presents a fascinating but flawed look at the near future.
Ironically, Chief John Anderton (Cruise, in full-frown mode) becomes the #1 suspect of the unit he helped create. Going on the run, he discovers there’s no place to hide in a world taken over by technology. Discussing his emphasis on this particular theme in Minority Report, filmmaker Spielberg predicts, "George Orwell’s prophecy really comes true, not in the twentieth century but in the twenty-first. Big Brother is watching us now, and what little privacy we have will completely evaporate in twenty or thirty years because technology will be able to see through walls, through rooftops, into the very privacy of our personal lives, into the sanctuary of our families."
To me, Spielberg’s vision of the future rings true in some respects. Yes, we have gained an ease of living because of machines and gadgets, but at what cost? I spend more time at my computer than with my family. And I just received a nasty E-mail from a group I would NEVER associate with. How did they find me? Granted, these are minor examples, but most people today could share similar incidents – some much more insidious.
In Minority Report, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick (Blade Runner), Anderton’s program has practically erased murder in the Washington D. C. area. Combining advanced technology and the psychic abilities of three individuals called Pre-Cogs, this new way of fighting crime eliminates the need for a trial. But is the system ever wrong? After being targeted as the next murderer, Anderton has to find out whether or not that’s possible -- or if he’s been set up by someone who wants his job.
"I’m tired of the future," moans Agatha (Samantha Morton from Sweet and Lowdown), the top Pre-Cog. Who wouldn’t be? She and twin boys have been kept floating in a pool of water inside a temple-like prison for most of their lives. "Because we interfere with destiny, we’re more like priests than policemen," admits one member of the Pre-Crime staff.
Pre-Cogs are allowed no contact with the outside world, except for a geeky keeper, because that might interfere with their psychic work. When Agatha reluctantly ventures outside the "temple," she shivers, yells, and clings to Anderton. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I found her more annoying than godlike.
And what about those Pre-Crime storm troopers dispatched to capture perpetrators? Equipped with the finest high-tech equipment available, they still have great difficulty subduing Anderton. Are they the Keystone Cops of the future?
Still, there’s much to admire here. Spielberg’s visual magic creates a gritty, edgy world filled with technological wonders and horrors. Who else could get away with unleashing feisty robotic spiders to identify suspects by checking out their eyeballs? I was also impressed with the excellent performances of Colin Farrell (Hart’s War) and Max Von Sydow (What Dreams May Come). Because Farrell projects such depth of determination as an ambitious Justice Department official, I wish this charismatic actor had been cast in the leading role instead of Cruise. Von Sydow plays Anderton’s trusted boss with stylish elegance. However, after seeing him as Satan in Needful Things, it’s hard for me to trust any character Von Sydow portrays.
Although not Spielberg’s greatest film (that was Empire of the Sun, in my opinion), Minority Report offers plenty of thrills for lovers of sci-fi action and mysteries. Even more significant, this unusual film highlights the importance of protecting individual rights, especially during an age of technological miracles. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it.
(Released by 20th Century Fox/DreamWorks and rated "PG-13" for violence, brief language, some sexuality and drug content.)