It's 2054 and the Washington D.C. police department's Pre-Crime unit is six years old and going strong. The experimental program uses a trio of psychic precognitives to predict murders before they happen by connecting an elaborate machine to the precogs' brain waves that presents their visions to the Pre-Crime cops. Armed with advance knowledge and advanced weapons the Pre-Crime unit heads out to arrest the suspect before he or she commits the crime. Everything about the system is working perfectly until one day the chief of Pre-Crime John Anderton (Tom Cruise) sees himself as a killer in one of the visions. Refusing to believe he would ever commit murder Anderton finds himself fleeing from his former colleagues as he searches for a way to prove that Pre-Crime and the precogs aren't as infallible as their proponents would like everyone to believe. To discover the truth he kidnaps (he might say "rescues") the most psychically talented precog Agatha (Samantha Morton) and takes her along on a wild ride that explores the possibility of a preordained future and the ambiguities of the past--including the unsolved disappearance of Anderton's own 6-year-old son.
As Anderton Cruise adds another credit to an ever-growing list of films in which he's transformed his handsome face into a nearly unrecognizable mask. Despite the disguises it's impossible to forget that it's Tom Cruise up there but he plays the role with such gusto that you really can't fault the performance just because the actor has one of the best-known faces on the big screen. Cruise comes off as intelligent and aware of his character's context in cinematic history especially in the carefully crafted scenes that pay tribute to some great moments in moviemaking history. Especially noteworthy is the allusion to the behavior-modification scene in A Clockwork Orange: Cruise's eyelids are pulled wide open with metal clamps to allow a doctor to replace those baby blues with eyeballs that won't identify him in a retinal scan. Through this and other scenes Cruise proves in this film that while he might be a golden goose at the box office he's not afraid to be an ugly duckling too. Despite his forays into the grotesque Cruise is still the guy you root for in the Mission: Impossible-like chase and fight scenes that pepper Minority Report. A little less admirable and a lot less exciting is Max von Sydow as the director of the Pre-Crime program Lamar Burgess with a passable albeit dull performance. Morton's Agatha has spent most of her life floating in an isolated water tank so when the kidnapping takes her outside it's not surprising that she overplays the innocent-abroad thing. It must get old living in a tank envisioning murders but that's no excuse for the overdone performance. Finally Colin Farrell's understated FBI agent Danny Witwer is the perfect foil for Cruise's high-energy Anderton although Witwer thankfully sheds his mellow demeanor for a raucous fight scene with Cruise inside an auto manufacturing plant.
Since the buzz first started about Minority Report the press has been calling director Steven Spielberg the man who "practically invented" the summer blockbuster and there's no denying that this film represents another of that ilk. But the resemblance to a summer blockbuster ends with the red-hot star power Spielberg employs in Cruise. The feel of this film is much cooler thanks to a bleaching process Spielberg used to strip the rosy glow from the color. As a result the movie's look is a relentlessly stark and very high contrast tribute to classic film noir and it's exciting just to watch the images unfold on the screen. The tribute Spielberg pays deliberate or not to previous directing greats is also fascinating so watch for the allusions. There's also some really cool eye candy in Spielberg's imagined future and the movie is worth seeing for that reason alone. From talking animated cereal boxes to voice-activated houses to the crystal-clear computer monitors and prison cells this is a movie that really pays attention to detail--perhaps at times a little too much attention. The plot is captivating and the story is solid; unfortunately Spielberg wields the philosophical subtext with such a heavy hand that it feels as if you've been beaten over the head with it. Is it morally acceptable to imprison someone who hasn't actually done anything? How much freedom will you give up to live in a world without crime? These questions are asked over and over in the film's action and dialogue and frankly they grow tired. After last year's A.I. debacle we'd hoped Spielberg had learned his lesson about movies that are an hour too long and way too pushy with their message. Apparently not.