Not simply Steven Spielberg’s most prescient sci-fi work but also one of his finest, Minority Report may not fully investigate the moral questions raised by its tale (based on a Philip K. Dick short story), but it makes up for such deficiencies with muscular rollercoaster thrills and a poignant portrait of man’s capacity for free will. Spielberg’s film is set in a phenomenally realistic 2054 defined by holographic touch-screen computers, vertical and horizontal roadways upon which cars move along tracks, and omnipresent eye-scanners that perform security as well as deliver customer-targeted advertising. This breathtakingly conceived environment (shot in glistening cool hues by Janusz Kaminski) is crime-free thanks to a trio of psychics known as pre-cogs (with Samantha Morton as the most powerful) who are used by Washington D.C.’s “Pre-Crime” law enforcement unit to arrest murderers before they commit their crimes, a tactic that raises a host of ethical issues that Spielberg, for a time, nicely addresses without diverting attention away from his central, adrenalized mystery narrative.
That plot concerns lead pre-crime officer John Anderton (Tom Cruise), who upon discovering that the infallible pre-cogs have pinned him as the city’s next murderer, flees incarceration and sets out to prove his innocence. Scott Frank and Jon Cohen’s script is a bit overstuffed and unwieldy, yet throughout, Spielberg’s stewardship keeps the proceedings on fast-track course. The director effortlessly navigates the ins and outs of this futuristic The Wrong Man-style saga and its centerpiece sequences (one involving a fight carried out on the backs of jet pack-enabled adversaries), with his film smoothly commingling Orwellian commentary about justice, national defense and fate with slam-bang action kicks. Cruise’s performance is rooted in rugged self-preservation single-mindedness, but the actor adds nuance when necessary, largely via Anderton’s struggle to deal with the years-earlier kidnapping and death of his son (a thread that provides Spielberg with his pet father-son theme). The third act gets bogged down in investigative sleuthing at the expense of examining the moral consequences of Pre-Crime. Still, the shift in focus toward Anderton and his enemies’ ability to choose their destiny is nonetheless evocatively addressed, as is – amidst the high-flying set pieces – the nature of memory, the pain of regret and the desire for survival.