Due to the prevalence of murderers and their various means of killing people and then trying to get away with that, it's up to detectives and forensic scientists to figure out who, how and why they did it and then stop them from striking again. The problem with that, of course, is that it does no good for the previous victims.
Imagine then, if you could know ahead of time who would murder whom with the added benefit of throwing in the when and where variables. That was the futuristic scenario of author Philip K. Dick in his short story, "Minority Report," that's now been brought to the big screen by director Steven Spielberg.
Starring Tom Cruise in one of his better and more intriguing roles to date, the film tells the tale of a future society where police - thanks to the work of three psychics and their visions of the future - arrest murderers before they commit the crime and do so by examining and piecing together the details of those homicidal visions.
The "what if" hook then involves the twist of one of those cops then being seen in one of the visions and thus targeted for arrest despite not knowing or even recognizing the pending victim or having any idea why he might be inclined or forced to murder him.
Working from an adaptation of Dick's story by screenwriters Scott Frank ("Out of Sight," "Get Shorty") and Jon Cohen (making his debut), Spielberg mixes the philosophical implications of such a setup with enough action and sci-fi material to keep the nearly two and a half hour film moving along at a good and nearly always mesmerizing clip. Although it may go on too long like his last film - "A.I." - and miss what may have been its more appropriate ending point, at least it's not as ultimately disappointing as that other sci-fi flick.
One of the bigger reasons for that is that the film doesn't feel like a stereotypical Spielberg picture. While parts of "A.I." came off the same way (those with the late Stanley Kubrick's touch on them), others reeked of the sentimental and manipulative Spielberg tone that ruined that effort. Although this one momentarily teeters on that late in the film, its only other recognizable Spielberg element is some brief slapstick mayhem reminiscent of the filmmaker's work in, of all things, "1941."
Beyond that, the film is teeming with memorable action set pieces that are thrilling on their own and collectively add up to a film that - notwithstanding the brilliant "Saving Private Ryan" - is the director's best work in a long time.
From the work of Spielberg's longtime collaborator, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski ("Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler's List") and his de-saturated camera work to the many terrific special effects, a fun futurist view of the world (where moving animation/video exists on cereal boxes and newspapers, and advertising directly addresses the passerby by name) and composer John Williams' (the "Star Wars" and "Jurassic Park" films) effective but thankfully understated score, the film is nothing short of mesmerizing and compelling to behold.
That's not to say that the film is without its flaws, however, although many of them are far more script than director-based. While the specifics of how Pre-Crime works are seamlessly explained without seeming like overt exposition that needs to be gotten out of the way, a few important details have seemingly been omitted or overlooked.
For instance, we never learn of the range - physically or temporally - of the psychics' visions, a point that raises the question of how the DC-based program would work nationally. Then there's the overall philosophical and scientific debate and paradox of how the psychics could foresee murders that ended up never occurring due to their visions alerting the Pre-Crime units to intervene. Wouldn't they have had a vision of that occurring as well? It falls along the same lines of the usual time travel dilemma where a future event wouldn't occur if it were subsequently (or is it previously) prevented.
The bigger problem, however, is that Spielberg and the screenplay don't know when to call it quits. Had either had the guts to stop the film at its logical and ironic conclusion (which I won't give away), the film would have been so much better and ended with quite a mental kick. As it stands, the film drags on for quite a bit after what should have been its "Twilight Zone" like conclusion.
Much like "A.I." Spielberg then proceeds to provide something of a modified happy ending, while in this case also tying up the lose ends like any standard murder mystery where everything is explained at the end. It's not an awful development, but it proves to be the least original and/or interesting part of the story.
As the haunted protagonist, Tom Cruise ("Vanilla Sky," "Jerry Maguire") delivers a terrific performance that not only ranks as one of his best, but also ranks up there as far as playing a character in a Dick adaptation. Colin Farrell ("Hart's War," "Tigerland") is decent but not as good as the protagonist's adversary, which also holds true for Max Von Sydow ("Snow Falling on Cedars," "What Dreams May Come") as the Pre-Crime director.
The shaved Samantha Morton ("Sweet and Lowdown," "Jesus' Son"), however, is quite good, once freed of her confines, as one of the psychics. The likes of Kathryn Morris ("A.I.," "The Contender"), Neal McDonough (HBO's "Band of Brothers," "Star Trek: First Contact"), Lois Smith ("The Pledge," "Twister") and Peter Stormare ("Windtalkers," "Fargo") nicely complement the larger roles.
While not perfect, this sci-fi flick and its various scenes and sequences are likely to grow on viewers hours or days after seeing them, which is always a good sign. Featuring a fun premise, good performances, excellent technical work and one of Spielberg's best fantasy efforts, "Minority Report" rates as a strong 7.5 out of 10.