Go see “Minority Report”

Went to see Minority Report last night. I almost decided to pass – on the plane yesterday, I saw the Wall Street Journal’s review that said it was dispassionate, not entertaining, and overall a let -down. Fortunately, I checked my favorite movie reviewer before we headed out. If you haven’t read James Berardinelli’s movie reviews before, allow me the pleasure of introducing you. He started posting reviews to rec.arts. movie-reviews on Usenet in 1992, then eventually put his entire database of reviews online at http://www.reelviews.net/. He’s not an academic when it comes to film reviews, but he has a deep appreciation of movies. And I almost always agree with his reviews. (Anyone that puts Dead Again on their top 100 list is kosher in my book.) Your mileage may vary.

In any event, I checked James’ review of Minority Report, and was thrilled to see this statement:

In the wake of the disappointment of A.I., Minority Report arrives in theaters representing a much-needed tonic for Spielberg. However, this is not just a “rebound” picture; it’s an achievement – arguably the best escapist entertainment the director has produced in two decades. Minority Report rivals some of Spielberg’s top adventure/science fiction epics, such as Close Encounters and Raiders of the Lost Ark. What’s more, it affirms that, even in the 2000s, movies do not have to be brain-dead to be exciting. When the season is over, Minority Report will more than likely stand out as the best picture to grace multiplex screens during the Summer of 2002.

The film is just pitch-perfect. The pre-cogs (the individuals who can predict murders before they occur) are named Agatha, Arthur, and Dashiell. (Not hard to see where those names came from, but Spielberg’s ability to work tributes into almost every scene – without overpowering the story in the slightest – is one of the little touches that makes this a much more rewarding experience. You’ll catch nods to film noir, science fiction, and stock detective thrillers.) Fans of The Maltese Falcon will smile when they see a scene late in the film lovingly reproduce a famous shot. (To say more would be to reveal a twist in the film.) A nearly-hidden billboard in a mall suggests that one brand of sunglasses lets you “See what others can’t.” (The whole notion of what you can and can’t see is central to the film.)

There’s even a nod to another movie adapted from a Phillip K. Dick short story, Total Recall. In Total Recall, one scene early in the film telegraphs much of the rest of the story. You don’t realize it until you see it a second time – but the rest of the story is laid out in just a few lines of dialogue. Same with Minority Report – a key exchange between two characters tells you all you need to know about who’s who. But even with that one exchange, Spielberg still manages to hide a few surprises.

What I loved about the film is that it rewards further analysis. Like with The Matrix, this is a layered film, with too much to catch in just one viewing. Cruise is surprisingly good (I shouldn’t be surprised, as he reinvents himself with almost every film), and the rest of the cast delivers perfect performances. The film dares you to think about the central themes – destiny, vision, identity, loss – and surprises you by unflinchingly considering the consequences.

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