Things you don't see often: Ewan McGregor lasting a movie without getting his giblets out. That's one. A Wes Craven rom-com. That's another. And hows about Tom Cruise chasing his own surgically removed eyes down a ramp until they boulder daintily down a sewer drain? No. Not often...
It says a lot about Minority Report that its only moment of belly-stretching humour comes with a side order of self-destructive malice. Trumpeted as a now-or-never collaboration between Hollywood's heaviest heavyweights - - Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg - - the question was never whether or not Minority Report would be any good. The question was how good. Very, as it turns out, although it's hardly the kinetic actioner pumped in the trailer. Yes, the hectic jet-pack pursuit that opens the second act is as thrilling as anything Spielberg's done. But really, Minority Report is two set-pieces short of your average blockbuster, choosing instead to entangle itself in a dark-hearted whodunnit. Here is a summer movie with an overcast disposition - a brood of itchy introspection and stormy noir.
The year is 2054 and Washington DC is the host of a nervy experiment in crime prevention. Deep in the Justice Department lie three psychics ("pre-cogs") who dangle in liquid suspension like an Olympic Synchronised Floating squad, sharing their incriminating visions with the police. With no homicides in six years, it's a perfect system headed by a perfect guardian, Chief John Anderton (Cruise). Motored by the death of his son, Anderton's Pavlovian impulse is to slam the lid on any homicide before it happens. A nifty prologue shows the system's brutal efficiency, but the entrance of a rival inspector - - Colin Farrell, all growl and snap - - sets into motion an unbreakable chain of events that sees Anderton on the run from his own breed. Pre-cog Agatha (a haunting Samantha Morton) has marked him for murder and there's just 36 hours before his date with his secret murderee. It's a set-up all right. But who's pulling the strings?
Painful goodbyes are big in Minority Report. Anderton can't stop remembering his long-dead son, Agatha is tortured by flash-frame murders that her psychic powers refuse to swat away, and potential killers splutter demented apologies to their once-intended victims.
Yet it's a movie of farewells in more unexpected ways. So it's goodbye to Cruise's shit-eating grin. And while you're at it, adieu to Spielberg's sprightly fizz. This is a grown-up movie by men who've suddenly realised that their inner Peter Pans have deserted them.
It's only a case of looking for the signs to see that this shift into the shadows has been coming. Cruise's last effort, Vanilla Sky, relentlessly bashed its publicity placards by promising the freak spectacle of An Ugly Tom. Judging by the events of Minority Report, which takes a perverse, fully sanctioned delight in mashing up Cruise's mush, it's an image audiences will have to get used to. The signal Cruise sends out is pretty obvious - beefcake is no longer on the menu. The strutting fratboy with the deafeningly white teeth is now humming with a turbulent angst. SuperCruise has never been so, well, human, and he's positively magnetic.
As for Spielberg, all that immaculately branded matinee magic is a distant memory. His prime concerns here - fate versus free will, the Death Row dilemma, surveillance age paranoia - are Big Issues, tackled with sombre conviction. Enhancing the mood is a complete vision of a future-shocked America. This being a work based on a fiction by Philip K Dick, whacko embellishments are a given, and with its singing cereal packets, vertical freeways and virtual shopkeepers, Minority Report's world - a surreal cityscape of opulent chromes and 1940s grub - makes for an extraordinary spectacle, made all the eerier by a parched and seedy colour palette.
If the universe is fully immersive, so too is the plot. Credit to scripter Scott Frank, whose screenplay is hardboiled but never scrambled. The dialogue's sour and smartmouthed ("You dig up the past, you're gonna get dirty") while Spielberg deftly juggles an intricate plot. Okay, so the climax is dwarfed by the potential of its tremendous set-up, but in a season defined by effects-driven crapola, this is definitely the summer's surprise package: a blockbuster with big brains and a huge amount of daring.
Moments of blistering excitement are rationed in this original, gripping whodunnit. The spectacle's dazzling, but the tale's the ticket here, a murky future-noir with style to spare.
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