Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Essay Review: Minority Report (****)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Neal McDonough, Jessica Capshaw, Lois Smith, Tim Blake Nelson, Kathryn Morris, Tyler Patrick Jones, Dominic Scott Kay, Mike Binder, Peter Stormare, Steve Harris, Patrick Kilpatrick, Daniel London, Michael Dickman, Matthew Dickman, George Wallace, Amy Ryerson, Arye Gross, Ashley Crow, Joel Gretsch, Jessica Harper.
2002--145 minutes

Rated PG-13 (violence, language, sexuality, drug content)

Reviewed by The Teen Critic on December 2, 2008.

Having watched "Minority Report" within the last week, I find no quibble to be had. Every once in a blue moon, there is a movie I would label as "perfect," and "Minority Report" is the best of those. This is a full-blooded masterpiece, as well as Spielberg's greatest achievement yet. I seriously cannot see him topping this, as every sequence, shot, and frame has a deeper meaning and could be dissected for hours at a time. Besides being a thoughtful rumination on fate and whether the future truly is written in stone, "Minority Report" is also a masterfully exciting science fiction epic and a staggering masterpiece of complex plotting and note-perfect direction. It also contains the most visually stimulating special effects sequence I've ever seen (yes, even more so than anything in "King Kong") and the most beautiful cinematography of any film I've seen from this decade, by the great Janusz Kaminski. In fact, I think "Minority Report" is the best film of the decade, and considering we have two years and one month left until December 31, 2010, I don't see anything in the lineup possibly reaching these heights. Before "The Dark Knight" and "King Kong" became pop entertainment masterpieces and veritable classics in their own right, there was this film, one so perfect in its every facet, so striking at any second, that I have no problem saying it stylistically blows those two films out of the water.

The story is so labyrinthine it makes the plot of "The Dark Knight" simple to follow in comparison. The Pre-Crime Division Unit of New York City has been established, and crime has been nearly stopped for good. Chief John Anderton is pretty sure that the technology is absolutely perfect, until his name comes up as the perpetrator to murdering someone he has never met. The catch is, it's supposed to go down in 36 hours. Also figuring into the forefront of the plot in unexpected ways is the personal drama involving his missing son, taken years earlier at a public pool.

Oh, but it goes deeper than that--much deeper. This story goes in directions you will never be able to guess, because Steven Spielberg won't let you. How the story takes its turns is simply and undeniably perfect in its execution and scripting. The character arcs are forever changed and, if the film has a mildly "happy" ending, that is because this story deserves it. Nothing that comes before prepares us for the emotional and visceral rollercoaster ahead, and thus we need something to lift our spirits in the end; but that does not mean it cheats the audience.

Just look at this movie. The cinematography, stark and spare yet wondrous and beautiful at the same time, shrouds the movie in hopeful despair. Times are bad, but they'll get better. The film editing, especially during the unbelievably exciting action sequences, flows nicely, never wavering or cutting two quickly.

Take two scenes, for example, that will be included in my "Great Sequences of 2000-2009" article next year. One is a gun battle and then all-out fistfight between Tom Cruise's Anderton and Colin Farrell's Danny Witwer. The other is the aforementioned brilliant visual effects sequence, involving robotic spiders sent into Anderton's building. The first is chaotic, because any other way it wouldn't work. The effects of the blast gun are perfectly mounted, as are the repercussions of using it (the user is a bit disoriented due to the backlash). The second is so fluid as to be unlike any action scene ever filmed; the camera looms overhead and, in one long unbroken shot, builds tension until...well, see the movie.

This is what happens when cinema (as well as pop sci-fi) reaches levels of perfection all too rarely seen in movies. Taking Philip K. Dick's brilliant, 30-page short story and adapting it into a staggering achievement of modern film is something that rarely, if ever, happens. Dick was a master at writing science fiction--perhaps the best there is--and all of his short stories and both of his novels have labyrinthine plots tackled wonderfully. Another example: "Paycheck," which was made into the underrated 2003 masterpiece starring Ben Affleck. "Minority Report" and "Paycheck" (both the films and the sources) have something in common: they are about men who have been dropped into a misunderstanding that may ruin their careers and lives. They are also about forms of time travel and manipulation and deal with this aspect brilliantly. The difference between them lies in the directors. Spielberg is better than John Woo, who opts more for action than characters--ironic, since "Paycheck" is his finest, a nearly operatic action film of a very high order, and that also benefited from well-drawn characters. Both are great films, but "Minority Report" is beyond great: it's literally perfect in every aspect, and the best summer blockbuster ever made.

Tom Cruise is at his absolutely finest when playing confused, emotionally damaged action heroes (just look at his work in "War of the Worlds"), and this is his best role. John Anderton is a hero to root for and care about, and Cruise brings that humanity to the forefront. This is a powerful performance. Equally effective is Samantha Morton, Oscar-worthy as Agatha, one of the Pre-Cogs, who has seen the future and doesn't like it. Morton doesn't have a substantial line of dialogue until a scene near the end, but even when not talking, you can't take your eyes off of her. Also making strong impact are Colin Farrell and Max Von Sydow as the agent taking over when Anderton is suspected of future murder and the mentor and friend...and with true colors not seen till the end.

The most maddening thing surrounding this film is that it was denied even one Oscar nomination, when it was better than any of the films from 2002 (pick one). Not visual effects. Not the indelible music score that ranks as one of the best I've heard. Not that haunting cinematography. Not the film editing. Not the film, for Pete's sake. Nothing. This is a travesty. Everything about this film resonates with the viewer for months after viewing. But then, it's the Academy. What do you expect? Them to be reasonable?

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